Police video shows moments before fatal US shooting
The traffic stop starts like any other: An officer pulls over a motorist, walks up to the driver’s side window and asks for license and registration. What happened minutes later appears to take place without any obvious sign of provocation or conflict that would lead to a fatal shooting: The driver opens the door and runs, and the officer chases after him.
Video released Thursday from the dashboard of white South Carolina police Officer Michael Thomas Slager’s cruiser captures the very first moments he and black motorist Walter Scott meet, a benign encounter at its earliest stages. It changes quickly as Scott takes off running and the officer runs after him.
The video captures the moments leading up to a shooting death that has sparked outrage as the latest example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. The shooting itself was captured by an eyewitness on his iPhone and provided the impetus for the officer to be charged with murder and fired. That’s a striking difference from the recent cases in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, where white officers were not charged in the deaths of African-Americans, prompting protests and intense debate about police treatment of minorities.
Questions remained in South Carolina over how the traffic stop turned deadly. The onboard video provides a more complete picture of the encounter.
The shooting took place Saturday and the police and Slager’s lawyer said the officer fired in self-defense during a scuffle over his department-issued stun gun. Within days, the eyewitness video surfaced and immediately changed perceptions of what happened, leading the police to charge Slager with murder and fire him from the force he’d worked on for five years.
The dashboard camera video shows Scott being pulled over in a used Mercedes-Benz he had purchased just days earlier. Police have said he was being stopped for a broken tail light. Slager is seen walking toward the driver’s side window and heard asking for Scott’s license and registration. Slager then returns to his cruiser. Next, the video shows Scott starting to get out of the car, his right hand raised above his head, then he quickly gets back into the car and closes the door.
Seconds later, he opens the door again and takes off running. Within a city block or two, out of the dashboard camera’s view, Slager catches up to him in an empty lot.
A bystander noticed the confrontation and pushed record on his phone, capturing video that has outraged Americans: it shows Scott running away again, and Slager firing eight shots at his back.
There is almost nothing in Slager’s police personnel file to suggest that his bosses considered him a rogue officer capable of murdering a man during a traffic stop. In the community he served, however, people say this reflects what’s wrong with policing today: Police nearly always get the last word when citizens complain.
“We’ve had through the years numerous similar complaints, and they all seem to be taken lightly and dismissed without any obvious investigation,” the Rev. Joseph Darby, vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP civil rights group, said Thursday.
The mostly black neighborhood where the shooting took place is far from unique, said Melvin Tucker, a former FBI agent and police chief in four southern cities who often testifies in police misconduct cases.
Nationwide, training that pushes pre-emptive action, military experience that creates a warzone mindset, and legal system favoring police in misconduct cases all lead to scenarios where officers to see the people they serve as enemies, he said.
Both Slager, 33, and Scott, 55, were U.S. Coast Guard veterans. Slager had one complaint in his personnel file of excessive force that was ultimately dismissed. Scott had been jailed repeatedly for failing to pay child support. But neither man had a record of violence. Slager consistently earned positive reviews in his five years with the North Charleston Police.
Slager’s new attorney, Andy Sav- age, said Thursday that he’s conducting his own investigation, and that it’s “far too early for us to be saying what we think.”
The officer, whose wife is eight months pregnant, is being held without bond pending an Aug. 21 hearing on a charge of murder that could put him in prison for 30 years to life if convicted.
Terence Wright, of North Charleston, South Carolina pays his respects at the scene where Walter Scott was killed by a police officer Saturday, after a traffic stop in North Charleston, Thursday, April 9. Wright is a friend of the Scott family.