Jury se­lec­tion be­gins for po­lice of­fi­cer in death of black mo­torist

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bruce Smith

CHARLESTON, S.C. >> A jury be­ing cho­sen this week in Charleston will have to de­cide whether a white for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer is guilty of mur­der in the shoot­ing of an un­armed black mo­torist that shocked the na­tion after a by­stander re­leased cell­phone video of the con­fronta­tion.

Michael Slager’s at­tor­ney con­tends there was more to the in­ci­dent than what ap­peared on the widely seen video clip show­ing Wal­ter Scott’s shoot­ing, in­clud­ing a fight be­tween the pair and a tus­sle over the of­fi­cer’s Taser.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, the same week that a panel is be­ing seated in the Slager case, jury se­lec­tion be­gins for the trial of a for­mer Univer­sity of Cincin­nati po­lice of­fi­cer who — like Slager — stands ac­cused of mur­der in the shoot­ing death of an un­armed black man.

Prospec­tive ju­rors will be ques­tioned Mon­day for Ray Tens­ing’s trial on mur­der and vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter charges in the shoot­ing of Sam DuBose in July 2015. Tens­ing pulled DuBose over for a miss­ing front li­cense plate. The traf­fic stop ended in the fa­tal shoot­ing of DuBose.

The shoot­ings are among a series na­tion­wide that have sparked de­bates over race and polic­ing in cities from New York and Chicago to Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri; Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana; Tulsa, Ok­la­homa; and Char­lotte, North Carolina.

Chris Ste­wart, an at­tor­ney for the Scott fam­ily, sees the Slager case as a blue­print for oth­ers in­volv­ing po­lice and mi­nori­ties.

“When an of­fi­cer is pros­e­cuted, will you get jus­tice?” he asks. “The ver­dict is huge. It needs to serve as a les­son to of­fi­cers that if you break the law, you don’t just get away.”

Slager, who turns 35 in Novem­ber, faces 30 years to life in prison if con­victed in the shoot­ing that oc­curred after he pulled Scott over for a bro­ken tail­light. Fam­ily mem­bers have said Scott may have run be­cause he was $18,000 be­hind on child sup­port and wor­ried he might have to go back to jail.

At­tor­ney Andy Savage, who rep­re­sents Slager, says the brief video clip that’s been cir­cu­lated widely on the in­ter­net does not show the en­tire in­ci­dent. He says the footage also shows the two men tus­sling on the ground, with Scott on top of the of­fi­cer as they wres­tle, and Slager warn­ing Scott that he will shoot.

When the cell­phone video sur­faced two days after the in­ci­dent, Slager was fired, ar­rested and charged with mur­der. He spent eight months in jail be­fore Judge Clifton Newman, who is black, is­sued an or­der last Jan­uary re­leas­ing him on a half-mil­lion dol­lars bond. Slager is un­der house ar­rest at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in South Carolina.

About 600 sum­monses were sent to po­ten­tial ju­rors for the trial at the court­house in Charleston’s his­toric dis­trict. They re­ceived ques­tion­naires ask­ing their thoughts on race re­la­tions and po­lice con­duct. Al­most 200 are ex­pected to re­port Mon­day after oth­ers were ex­cused for var­i­ous rea­sons or could not be lo­cated.

Savage has filed a mo­tion seek­ing a change of venue, ar­gu­ing a re­searcher his firm hired found that 85 per­cent of the peo­ple polled in Charleston County have seen the shoot­ing video. Savage says the com­plete video show­ing the fight has sel­dom been seen. Newman has not taken up the mo­tion.

Slager also faces a trial in fed­eral court next year on three counts, in­clud­ing de­priv­ing Scott of his civil rights. Con­vic­tion on all three could bring a life sen­tence plus 30 years and a $750,000 fine.

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