One day ago, I wrote of the killing of Justus Howell, a 17-year-old black kid shot twice in the back. Before the day was out, the New York Times broke the story of the indictment of North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael T. Slager for the murder of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man stopped for having a broken tail light.
The story of Scott’s killing originally told a narrative of a struggle in which the officer was in fear of his life.
The incident began about 9:30 a.m. Saturday when Officer Michael Slager, 33, pulled 50-year-old Walter Scott over for a broken tail light at the corner of Remount and Craig roads.
Police and witnesses say Scott tried to run from Slager before turning to fight for the officer’s Taser. It was during that scuffle that the officer fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Scott.
According to an incident report, officers heard Slager say over the radio that he had deployed his Taser and “seconds later” he said “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.”
Slager’s lawyer explained that he “felt threatened last weekend when the driver he had stopped for a broken brake light tried to overpower him and take his Taser,” and was constrained to pump eight bullets into Scott.
This was a lie. A complete, total, unadulterated lie.
[Note: Original video used was subsequently removed from Youtube. This is a replacement video. We’ll see whether it remains or is removed.]
Unbeknownst to Slager, his department or his lawyer, the killing was captured on video, revealing that Slager executed Scott and then dropped his Taser near the body, lying with his face planted straight down into the dirt, to manufacture the story he would use to justify the murder.
But the video, which was taken by a bystander and provided to The New York Times by the Scott family’s lawyer, presents a different account. The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.
Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.
The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.
Why Walter Scott initially fled Slager isn’t clear, because he’s dead, though his brother suspects it was because he owed child support. What is clear, however, is that Slager shot Scott as he was running away, neither fighting nor threatening the cop, and continued to shoot until Scott dropped to the ground. What is also clear is that Slager walked back, after checking the body and cuffing the man he fatally wounded, to pick up the Taser (the one that isn’t clear to the Times’ writer), and casually drop it next to the body.
What is also clear is that there is another officer, whose name has yet to be revealed [Edit: it’s now reported that the second cop is “Clarence Habersham”], who stands over the body as Slager plants the Taser, complicit in the cover-up of the murder. The second cop’s skin color may be black, but his true color is blue.
Also notable is the Times’ repetition of the smearing of the victim, via the crack investigative work of the Charleston Post and Courier in repeating the police press release:
Mr. Scott had been arrested about 10 times, mostly for failing to pay child support or show up for court hearings, according to The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston. He was arrested in 1987 on an assault and battery charge and convicted in 1991 of possession of a bludgeon, the newspaper reported. Mr. Scott’s brother, Anthony, said he believed Mr. Scott had fled from the police on Saturday because he owed child support.
Certainly, it’s material to the public’s understanding of the murder of Walter Scott that he had priors, as any person arrested for a 1987 battery is hardly worthy of serious concern when murdered by a cop now. Bizarrely, the Times also reports of Scott’s brother’s last memory of him at a family oyster roast:
At the roast, Mr. Scott got to do two of the things he enjoyed most: tell jokes and dance. When one of Mr. Scott’s favorite songs was played, he got excited. “He jumped up and said, ‘That’s my song,’ and he danced like never before,” his brother said.
Such a nice story, because everyone knows how much black men love to dance. Until they’re murdered by a cop, of course. To its credit, South Carolina will prosecute Michael Slager for the murder of Walter Scott.
Update: Judge Richard Kopf at Hercules and the Umpire asks whether there is a plausible defense for Slager:
Does Officer Slager have an arguable defense that he shot Mr. Scott out of concern for the public safety? Focus on the “fact” that Scott resisted arrest, had been shot once with a Taser, the Taser shot failed to subdue the subject, the subject tried to reach for the officer’s Taser, and began to run away. Doesn’t the following rule apply: “Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm . . . to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.” Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).
I would especially like to know whether this standard is subjective or objective. It would be great to see an actual criminal jury instruction where the shooting of a fleeing subject ostensibly to protect the public was used as a defense.
Notably, this was the issue I raised in my post on Justus Howell, which presents a far closer case than here. As to the standard to be applied, the Supremes neglected to include one in Garner, making it impossible to “answer” the question. That said, I would suggest it’s both subjective and objective, that the officer must, in fact, believe that a fleeing individual poses an imminent risk of death or serious injury to others, and that the belief must be one which is objectively reasonable. If it’s sufficient to justify a cop killing someone, let’s not make it too easy.
But is the defense plausible here? Two words: Space aliens.