But For Video: In The Back, Again (Update)

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.

22 comments on “But For Video: In The Back, Again (Update)

  1. N

    “South Carolina will prosecutor”?

    I also keep seeing quotes, from the mayor, the chief, about this being one bad decision. Most alleged murders don’t get that benefit.

  2. John Thacker

    The cops’s lawyer has dropped him since the video came out, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. I assume he’ll claim that the officer lied to him. What a job for his new defense attorney that will be.

    The local article also notes that the cop has two prior claims of excessive force before, including someone claiming that he fired a Taser at him for no reason in September 2013, but it was “investigated and dropped.” The family’s lawyer sent the video around to several places, including the Post and Courier.

    1. Turk

      I assume he’ll claim that the officer lied to him.

      His first lawyer will only make that statement if he wants to put his license in jeopardy by disclosing confidential info.

      1. SHG Post author

        He’d phrase it as an irreconcilable conflict of strategy. After all, he can’t claim he has to withdraw because Mr. Green failed to appear.

        Edit: And rather than speculate, here is the statement in David Aylor’s own words:

        Attorney David Aylor Issues Statement:

        Aylor No Longer Represents North Charleston Police Officer

        Charleston, South Carolina – April 7, 2015 – Attorney David Aylor today issued the following statement regarding North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager, the police officer involved with Saturday’s shooting.

        “Today, I withdrew my representation of Michael Slager. This is a terrible tragedy that has impacted our community.”

        Of course, nothing in there about his being relieved by a court, though he may not have made an appearance as yet, and therefore has nothing from which to be relieved.

        1. Turk

          Oh dear god, David Aylor gave an interview to The Daily Beast.

          He just couldn’t keep his yapper shut.

          He owed a duty to that former client.

            1. Turk

              Quote from Aylor in the Daily Beast:

              …” the video came out and within the hours of the video coming out, I withdrew my representation of the client.”

              Nothing quite like screaming right away to the public that you think your client is guilty.

              And I note he was well-prepared for the questions, managing the wonderful trick of instantaneous contradiction about how he found out about the video:

              I can’t say where I saw it first. I first became aware of it via the media. In fact, a reporter sent it to me via e-mail.


  3. ShelbyC

    If preferring to sit in one’s own vehicle instead of in the back seat of a cop car is reasonable suspicion of drug smuggling, why wouldn’t running to avoid being arrested for child support be probable cause of a threat of serious physical harm?

  4. morgan sheridan

    It is good to see that the correct word, “execution” is starting to be used more and more for describing these kinds of deaths at the hands of the police. While Mr. Scott’s children may benefit from his estate claiming and winning a wrongful death suit, I suspect they’d prefer a living father loving and teaching them however far in arrears his monetary child support happened to be.

  5. Scott Morrell

    I was sickened what I saw on that video. A number of things come to mind.

    What is the percentage of white people in luxury cars being pulled over for a broken tail light compared to those of black people? Is this a ruse to cast a wide web to create reasonable suspicion to see what else the police can find?

    The mayor and police department seem to have wanted to “believe and bury” the false police report before the video evidence came to light. At the mayor’s conference, one would expect him to be mad at the police officer and sympathetic towards the family. Instead, he seemed to be “calmly upset” that one of his own was caught doing a horrible act. This was not an act of courage by the mayor.

    If the defense uses the argument that the police thought he would cause bodily harm on others after fleeing an altercation after being hit by a stun gun, then it is open firing season for all police. I say that the suspect as least has to have a weapon on him to pass that threshold. However, I am not a lawyer.

      1. Bartleby the Scrivener

        I am very much an anti-fan of the reasoning used in the second-to-last paragraph of that ruling.

        Following that logic, all the government must do to make it possible to search virtually anyone at any time is create an endless list of common activities that, while reasonable in the correct context, are nonetheless illegal.

        Funny, that sounds suspiciously like the environment in which we live.

        1. SHG Post author

          An anti-fan? As in, you’re opposed or you wouldn’t buy tickets if they came to a concert venue near you?

    1. SHG Post author

      Apparently so. I’ve replace it with another, so we’ll see whether youtube is trashing them all or just that one was removed.

  6. John Thacker

    Looks like the cop just got fired. South Carolina is one of a few states (North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee) that ban collective bargaining by police officers, so if they mean business, there’s no arbitration or administrative leave, or any of that. (Obvious caveat is that the police chief has to mean business, and without that video…)

  7. John Barleycorn

    RIP Mr. Walter Scott

    Is it too much to hope that officer Slager’s unborn child will comes of age in an entirely different world of policing?

    In the meantime, melting down officer Slager’s weapon and casting it into a broken tail-light memorial to be displayed prominently in North Charleston PD’s briefing room as a reminder not to shoot people in the back wouldn’t hurt my feelings.

    P.S.David Aylor, if by any chance you happen to read this post and its comments….You Sir, are a selfserving disgrace. FUCK YOU!

  8. Jake DiMare

    Hoping I’ll live to see the day when it’s not too much to expect law enforcement agencies to keep a person who would shoot someone in the back, plant evidence, and lie on an official report, out of the law enforcement business.

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