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.

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