Judge declares mistrial in officer’s fatal shooting of black motorist
A South Carolina judge declared a mistrial Monday in the murder trial of a white police officer who fatally shot a fleeing black man after the jury was unable to agree on a verdict.
The jury’s indecision came as a shock: Video footage of the April 2015 incident, coupled with law enforcement’s quick decision to bring charges, led many to expect an open-and-shut case.
Cellphone video taken by a bystander showed former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager firing eight rounds at 50-year-old Walter Scott as he ran from the officer. Mr. Slager was indicted on criminal charges days after the shooting and summarily dismissed from the department.
After deliberations spanning about 22 hours, the 12 jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Mr. Slager was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury also could have considered a conviction on voluntary manslaughter.
Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said she intends to retry the case as soon as the court is ready to proceed.
Attorneys representing the Scott family called the mistrial a “missed opportunity for justice” but had no qualms with how prosecutors handled the case and felt confident that a second trial will result in a conviction.
“The fight isn’t over, that was Round One,” said attorney L. Chris Stewart. “He may have delayed justice, but he did not escape it. We all saw what he did.”
It’s unclear how quickly a retrial could begin as Mr. Slager also faces charges in a federal case. The Justice Department brought civil rights and obstruction of justice charges against Mr. Slager, alleging he used excessive force without legal justification and made false statements to law enforcement investigating the shooting. That case is scheduled to begin early next year.
Mr. Slager shot Scott during an altercation after he had pulled over the motorist for a broken taillight and Scott ran from his car. Video shows Mr. Slager shooting Scoot as he ran. The widely distributed footage ignited concerns across the nation about mistreatment of blacks by police.
While the bystander footage clearly shows Mr. Slager firing eight rounds at Scott, the defense team focused on the encounter between the two men in the moments before the recording began.
Mr. Slager testified that he stunned Scott three times with his Taser as he chased him and told him to stop.
While Scott was on the ground, Mr. Slager said the motorist grabbed the Taser and pointed it at him. Scott was unarmed, but the former officer said he was in “total fear” when he fired his service weapon.
Concern that the case would end in a mistrial first surfaced Friday, when a juror sent a note to the Circuit Judge Clifton Newman indicating that the juror would be unable to find Mr. Slager guilty. The judge ordered the jurors back into deliberations for several hours Friday before finally sending them home over the weekend.
It was apparent Monday that the panel of 11 white jurors and one black juror was still having difficulty reaching consensus.
Reading from a note sent by the jury Monday morning, Judge Newman said the “majority of the jurors are still undecided” and they requested help with several legal questions and definitions, asking why a manslaughter conviction was given as an option in the first-degree murder case. The jurors also sought definitions for terms like “imminent danger” and asked whether the definition of self-defense is different for a police officer than the average person.
At one point Friday, it appeared as though it was only a lone juror who was preventing the jury from reaching a unanimous guilty verdict.
“I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” the holdout juror wrote to the judge in a note sent Friday. “At the same time, my heart does not want to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother and father is innocent.”
It was not immediately clear how many of the jurors had voted for a guilty or not guilty verdict.
Judge Clifton Newman declared a mistrial the trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who is charged with shooting a black motorist in South Carolina last year.