David Aylor, The Other Shooter

It’s so very tempting, especially to a new lawyer seeking to establish his brand.  After all, the legal marketing gurus all say that if you don’t get out there and sell yourself, who will?  So when Charleston, South Carolina lawyer David Aylor, admitted to practice law in 2006, saw his opening, he went for it.

Aylor was tapped to represent then-North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager, who shot and killed Walter Scott.  It was, from all known information at the time, a good gig, a cop who had the usual justification for a kill.  It would put Aylor in the local Post and Courier, sympathetic to his client, and add to his local brand as the “best law firm in Charleston.”

Aylor has quite a few videos on Youtube, reflecting a bit of a penchant for marketing and self-promotion. Of course, these came well before his representation of Slager.  Perhaps he got the Slager case because of them. Perhaps if he had known what would follow, he might have chosen a different brand.

A mildly high profile local case is the sort of thing a young lawyer dreams of.  A hugely high profile national case is, well, more than a young lawyer is prepared to handle.  The shit hit the fan when a video emerged showing Slager executing Walter Scott.  Until then, Aylor gave the standard comment:

‘This is a very tragic event for all of the families,” Aylor said. “I believe once the community hears all the facts of this shooting, they’ll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this investigation.”

Somebody gained a better understanding, and it wasn’t Aylor.  He was left holding the bag, playing the mouthpiece, spouting inane and silly words that reflect his client’s lies to him, and his embrace of those lies.  The feel-good quote only works when there’s no video to prove the killer has a fool for a lawyer.

It’s hard to blame Aylor for being sucked in by Slager’s lie.  Clients lie sometimes.  And just as a more experienced lawyer might ask the client whether he really wants his lawyer to be the stupidest guy in the room, the less experienced lawyer might not question whether his client is being forthright. He may rely on his client’s denials.  But then, he might also take those denials and do the one thing that commits them to posterity: shoot off his mouth.

When the New York Times broke the video, Aylor’s world spun on its axis.  Two critical things happened simultaneously. The first was that Aylor realized that he had gone out on a limb for Slager, and the limb just broke. The second was that every media outlet in the nation came calling for comment, for anything they could put on the evening news.  If you’ve never enjoyed the swarm of media gnats, it’s overwhelming.

Aylor then made a decision and an announcement.  He was no longer Slager’s lawyer.

Aylor website

Many condemned Aylor for both abandoning Slager like a rat from a sinking ship, and issuing this statement.  While the statement was inartful, my initial reaction was more charitable, as the deluge of media calls must have been overwhelming, and Aylor might have sought to end the shit storm by telling the media to leave him out of it.

Was there some better way to handle this?  Of course. Don’t abandon your client just because the tide turned on you and threatens to take your sweet gig as good cop defender and turn it into lying, murdering cop lawyer.  Hey, that’s the job, kid. Welcome.

But more importantly, there was no announcement Aylor could make that wouldn’t scream, “my former client is guilty as sin, and I’m jumping ship to get away from this killer.”  This was the time to say, “no comment,” and walk away, as there was nothing good to be said that wouldn’t harm his client, Slager.  That duty, not to do harm to a client, extends to former clients as well.

But even so, this inappropriate press release could be chalked up to naiveté, compounded by the interest he was ill-prepared to handle.  Poor judgment, for sure, but understandable.  What was not understandable was what came next.

Aylor Daily Beast

What could Aylor possibly have been thinking when the Daily Beast called and said, “talk to us, bro. It’s gonna be sweet!”  The only rational conclusion is that he saw his 15 minutes of fame coming to an end, and wanted to get his brand in there before the name David Aylor disappeared forever.  This was an opportunity to spin his involvement from lawyer for the devil to good guy who wouldn’t be caught dead standing beside the murderous liar.

Aylor wasn’t unaware of his ethical duty not to give away his client’s confidences.  He thought, apparently, that he could both do the interview and pretend not to skirt his ethical obligations.

All I can say is that the same day of the discovery of the video that was disclosed publicly, I withdrew as counsel immediately. Whatever factors people want to take from that and conclusions they want to make, they have the right to do that. But I can’t confirm from an attorney-client standpoint what the reason is.

Pretty crafty, huh?  I cannot tell you what I’ve just told you.  Exactly what “factors” could anyone possibly take from that other than the fact that you, Slager’s lawyer at the time, have decided that the video conclusively proves his guilt, as well as your client lied to your face?

When you were representing Slager, you said, “I believe once the community hears all the facts of this shooting, they’ll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this investigation.”

That was my belief at the time, that’s why I made that statement.

Liar, liar, liar client.  So what happens when you as lawyer are foolish enough to take your client’s denial of guilt at face value?

One part is when you have a high-profile case, on behalf of your client and at the time due to their encouragement or what they’re directing you to do, you make public statements based on the information you have. It’s common in any type of case when you’re a defense attorney that any kind of information that you’re provided is limited throughout as far as what information you’re given from your client compared to when you actually get to discovery or the evidence, moving all the way to the point of more additional evidence or witnesses coming out as the case progresses. 

No, David, no.  No one forces you to rush out to the spotlight and make a statement before you have a clue what evidence exists against your client, and no one forces you to rush out to the spotlight a second time when you’re exposed as the fool who shot off his mouth.

At first, the spotlight seems warm and alluring to the lawyer, a chance to get his brand out in public and make a name for himself as the kind of lawyer who can handle the big time.  But stand in the spotlight long enough and it starts to burn.

David Aylor’s client was horribly wrong to shoot.  So too was David Aylor.

Do you know whether Officer Slager knew someone was taping the incident?

I can’t say what my client did and didn’t tell me, but I can tell you that I was not aware of the video…

No, you can’t tell the Daily Beast. You can’t tell anyone. That’s what it means to be a criminal defense lawyer. David Aylor may get an extra minute or two of “fame,” but it won’t be of the sort a young lawyer would want.  If he’s remembered, it will be as the young lawyer who couldn’t stop himself from shooting off his mouth after his client was exposed as the killer cop who shot down Walter Scott.


45 thoughts on “David Aylor, The Other Shooter

  1. John Barleycorn

    You don’t know if this asshole’s client lied to him. You simply don’t know that and shouldn’t even go near that speculation without clearly stating it is raw speculation.

    How about this speculation:

    For all we knew his client told him everything including planting the tazer, and then toped it off with “The only good n***er, is a dead n***er” while looking boy wonder wanna be lawyer right in the eye.

    Then boy wonder wanna be lawyer took a deep breath and told his client that he was up to the task but that there would certainly be some very heavy and delicate lifting ahead.

    Then things changed all of the sudden with the video, which neither knew existed, and this coward wanna be lawyer literally sacrificed his client at the alter to save his own “reputation”.

    Anyway, we don’t know!

    I hear you and I am sure the “lying client” is an untenable situation for your corner of legal guild but from the vantage of the cheap seats (those of us who pay the bills if you will) you are still being way, way, way to easy on this guy.

    1. SHG Post author

      Ah, my good friend, you’ve blown this one. No, of course we don’t know what Slager told him, but we know with certainty what he now saying. Let’s assume his client told him the absolute truth. And still, he’s saying that his client lied to him, suggesting both the disclosure of client confidences as well as lying about them at the same time (under our assumption). Either way, very bad stuff.

    2. David

      While agreeing the timing and manner and what he disclosed were all very wrong, was the mere fact of withdrawal necessarily wrong if the client had agreed in advance e.g. that the lawyer could withdraw under certain circumstances such as lying to his attorney about a significant matter affecting his defence? And this is assuming the decision wasn’t the client’s, i.e. after video came out maybe he thought he needed a more experienced attorney…

      1. SHG Post author

        He could have stated that he no longer represents Slager without stating that he withdrew, not to mention withdrew following the release of the video. He played this for his own benefit, and you don’t get to make that clear while denying you’re doing so.

  2. Victor Medina

    It’s like he only showed up for the class where they wrote “Noisy Withdraw” on the board, and skipped the rest of his professional responsibility class.

    What’s worse is, he probably thought he was being awfully clever and awfully lawyerly in his statements.

    What a fucktard.

    1. SHG Post author

      “Clever” is what remains after the reviews come in. No doubt he thought he had it covered up front, but he’s not gonna love the back end at all.

  3. J.P.

    Any thoughts on whether he is or should be subject to professional discipline for the press release and interview?

      1. N

        Yes you have thoughts, yes he’s under investigation, or yes he should be? Not being smart. I’m genuinely curious about your opinion on the “should he be?” I think he should but I’m not a criminal defense lawyer.

        1. SHG Post author

          The question put to me was whether I had any thoughts. My answer was yes. Seemed pretty clear to me.

          As to your follow-up question, I think he should be admonished for his statements.

  4. Kirsten Small

    SC’s ethics rules on lawyer advertising are more antediluvian than most, and that whole “Best Laywer in Charleston” thing is almost certainly a violation of them.

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  6. Marc R

    Some of my civil clients love the media for obvious reasons and want me to forward various pleadings to certain contacts I may have. Even some criminal clients want media attention, but only in the appellate stage, where the facts have already been publicly disclosed and the only issue is the application of law.

    I don’t understand the need to explain detailed facts about your defense strategy. I have no problem with him talking to the media. But you can say things that defend him which can’t be refuted with hidden video or surprise witnesses. Something like “this officer has done a great job protecting the community as part of the police force. He came into contact with a resisting suspect and while anyone’s death is a sad circumstance there is a huge difference between murder and what happened here. My client didn’t commit murder and is accordingly pleading not guilty.” Not elegant but not giving any defense tactic or strategy or false statement.

    If he wants to withdraw because he can’t handle the video then he was in no place to accept this officer as his client. We have several minutes of video all from after the confrontation. We have a narrow frame is in we don’t see where he was running to or what potential victims were in his path. A decision was made based on the prior violence not seen on video.

    The taser drop looks bad but he could’ve been counting steps, or taking out the prongs; saying another officer arriving on scene would automatically back up his partner in a murder frame up seems more crazy than the idea that backup knew of the violence transporting well before the shooting and that violence wasn’t captured on video but explains why a traffic stop concluded with a suspect fleeing police on foot and the officer elevating defense of others only after his repeated tapering had no effect upon the suspect.

    Without knowing the facts we can still create a defensive narrative that doesn’t make us throw in the towel with evidence against our client. Unless he was filmed from the encounter’s beginning at all angles we will never know what transpired more than the defendant.

    His saying “when all the facts come out” isn’t negated by the release of the video. A simple statement to the media “the narrow frame video, showing the very end of an ongoing violent encounter that began well before that video was shot, shows a very small window into what happened…and again I reiterate when all the facts are known, it will be apparent that my client didn’t commit murder. He was protecting himself and then others during a protracted violent struggle with a suspect.”

    He could still salvage the case. The video looks damning but this was a traffic stop and the video doesn’t show anyone near a car. So clearly the video is missing 99% of the story, etc.


    1. SHG Post author

      Unlikely. It’s bad stuff. Very, very bad stuff. Sure, Slager’s lawyer can try, but it’s somewhat delusional to think there is any argument that will negate the video.

      I’ve written quite a bit in the past about problems with media and media attention, but one point you raise requires additional comment. Clients often think that if they can get their story out in the media, it will somehow save them. They don’t grasp that the media doesn’t serve them, and there is no way to assure that the media won’t take their words, rip them a new asshole and destroy them.

      As Judge Kopf says, the media is not our friend. We cannot control the story, and the story can destroy the defense.

      1. Marc R

        The media is wildly irresponsible at times so we have a duty to contact them when the false info they report can clearly be corrected by the lawyer giving them public facts.

        To initially engage the media is like an unknown pit bill in criminal cases. If it walks by and ignores your client, then hold your breath and let them keep moving. But if they bite you then you can just stand there you need to take defensive measures, and at the same time not condescend to or insult the reporter. It’s a dangerous game but you can’t be an ostrich if they wrote about your client. I think you have a duty to at least contact them to correct false facts or implications. And you don’t even get paid extra dealing with the 4th branch.

        1. SHG Post author

          …so we have a duty to contact them…

          No, no, no. We never have a “duty” to contact them. We have a duty to exercise sound tactical judgment on our client’s behalf. Whether that means contact them or let a story fade into obscurity is a decision we must make. But duty? Never.

      2. JohnC

        “Clients often think that if they can get their story out in the media…”

        If you’ve find that you’ve dug yourself into a hole, you probably don’t have the digging skills to get yourself out. Unfortunately, the anosognostic’s dilemma makes realizing this problematic.

  7. Greg

    Professional discipline might be superfluous. Does he have any clients left?
    ‘Retain Ayler – he’ll cut and run at the first sign trouble’ leaves little to the imagination.

  8. delurking

    “…a new lawyer… ” and “…chalked up to naiveté…”.

    As you say, he was admitted to practice in 2006. That is nine years ago (I think). In your field, is that really still considered young?

      1. delurking

        Slips can happen when one writes as much as you have in the last few days, on so many topics. In fields that I have closer contact with, 9 years in means you start double-checking that the person is still current in his knowledge and skills.

        1. RKTlaw

          For a criminal defense trial lawyer, experience is counted by time in the trenches, not just chronological time. A case this serious, yes, nine years is young.

    1. N

      I have a few more years of experience than Aylor, as a civil litigator. I am only now becoming confident (emphasis on “becoming”) that I can handle heavy-duty matters without a grey-hair overseeing my every move. I have in fact handled a number of heavy-duty matters, by myself, mind you. But I still remain in awe of how much I still have to learn and how much better than me these grey-hairs still are. So, with that perspective, I can say that Aylor is definitely not as humble as he should be for his own good and that of his clients. Humility is vastly underappreciated in our profession.

      1. SHG Post author

        You’ve reached that stage of your career where your focus changes from how much you know to how much you don’t know. I’m still in that stage, 33 years in.

  9. Dan Weber

    Say he had suggested that, having been a lawyer less than 10 years, he walked away because he’s not experienced enough to handle a second-degree murder case. Would that have been plausible and not impugned his client? Or would it have failed because taking up a police-shooting case implies that he was always taking on a murder case?

    1. SHG Post author

      Had he felt inadequate to the job, he should have advised his client, assisted in finding competent counsel and assuring a smooth transition, and then quietly, having been substituted, skulked away.

  10. Neil Dunn

    Can this attorney’s actions and statements be used effectively by the defendant’s next attorney?

      1. John Barleycorn

        Such a shame….so I guess someone isn’t going to have any cake to hold, let alone eat seeing as how Aylor boy wonder took the bottomless cake tin with him and just won’t share.

        I wonder if instead of bouncing up and down and rocking on his feet, if his next set of commercials will have him with cake smeared all over his face wearing a boyish grin?

        Boys will be boys afterall.

        Should prove interesting to see just what sort of notes the gate keepers of the legal guild in South Carolina will be passing along to the producers and director of Aylor’s new run of “pick me” commercials. I wonder if they will insist on having him cut his beard? A baby face is a terrible thing to hide when you are trying to explaine how loveable you are.

        He was voted number one all. Heck, if he doesn’t keep pleasing his constituents how will he feed his family potatoes let alone cake?

        I ain’t too worried though. If he keeps this up and plays his cards right, all he has to do is throw a few more criminals under his bus and he can successfully run for state senator and become governor one day.

        Isn’t it about time them damn prosecutors started sharing all those comfy electorial seats with criminal defense lawyers anyway?

        P.S. Maybe you can retire “down south” esteemed one and when boy wonder Aylor gets all grown up and becomes governor he will feel sorry for you too and will appoint you to the South Carolina Supreme Court seat.

        1. John Barleycorn

          P.P.S. This just in hot off the wire; Rumor has it Aylor is going to be featured in a Vanity Fair piece and he goes on at some length as to why it is moral for criminal defense lawyers to support the death penality.

          1. Scott

            The Custer strategy – “if you get yourself in trouble the best way out is to get in deeper.”

  11. Stephan Futeral

    I’ve been a lawyer in Charleston for over 20 years and I’ve been on the news and (and quoted by newspapers) many times about cases and legal issues. Having said that, I rarely comment on my OWN CLIENT’s case. In one case, I briefly talked to the news to enlist the help of several news stations to try to find a hit and run driver who nearly killed my client. That type of situation is the exception to the norm. Although there is no glory (or 15 minutes of fame) for a lawyer to respond to the media with “no comment,” the client’s interests stay protected. After all, it’s about the client, not the lawyer.

  12. JD

    The shit hit the fan when a video emerged showing Slager executing Walter Scott.
    The police have released the dash cam video now. NBC.com posted it a few minutes ago. It contains a choppy and somewhat garbled audio of the foot chase.

    1. SHG Post author

      I understand from the earlier reports that none of the dash cam video showed any of the interaction.

      1. JD

        It doesn’t show the actual foot chase but the officer was apparently wearing a transmitter on his person because you hear his foot steps as he’s running, there is a good deal of mic disturbance like it would sound as if you were blowing into one. At one point he yells out,”Tazer! Tazer! Tazer!” and then he yells out “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” At the end, I think you can hear the gunshots but it is hard to tell.

        1. John Barleycorn

          Too bad Aylor didn’t stick around. He could have honed up on some his mad lawyer skilzzz and got all prehistoric on the details of the known and unknowns of the timeline of events instead of worrying about bring a senator.

          The contempt of cop timeline should indeed prove interesting.

          From the dash camera video It appears as though Scott didn’t own the vehicle or have it registered in his name. So the cheap seats would speculate that prior to exiting his vehicle Slager could have had no idea who Scott was or had any idea of the baggage he may have been carrying.

          Scott gives Slager his DMV issued dog tag, but flees the scene as Slager is in his car running him through the data bases at Information Retrieval.

          Should prove interesting to see if Slager had retrieved any information whatsoever about the felonious or non felonious standing of Scott before the foot chase.

          The odds are rarely in your favor to go gazelle and bolt on foot once in the “custody web” of the lions in blue but per yesterday’s post I am sure it will be interesting to see what “invisible felonious signs” transpired between Slager and Scott during the undocumented tazer portion of the scene or the entire situation for that matter.

          I wonder if Chief Shults will be testifying as an expert witness for the defense at trial about what Scott whispered in the ear of Slager during the tussle.

          Could be time for Aylor to flip flop. Who wants to be a senator when you could be Johnny Fucking Cochran?

          Chief Shults is ready to sign up for your lawyering posse Aylor!
          What are you waiting for? Flip flop it around and tell us how you can’t tell us about how your client actually fired you but then changed his mind and rehired you.

          Mount up and ride!

          P.S. Don’t worry about the tazer Aylor. Everybody knows Slager went to retrieve the the tazer so no baby monkeys, zebras, or gazelles would stumble upon it in the wild grasslands and hurt themselves while he was attending to the wounded quarry of his dangerous jungle safari.

          Good thing back up arrived when it did or Slager might have had to defend himself from a herd of crazy hyenas too.

          P.S.S. I would link the video of the stop and Scott initially fleeing from the blue lion’s web but it’s just too crazy and barbaric to post safari video when you know the quarry is gonna end up dead the moment he makes his move.

  13. Brad Mazarin

    A bit off topic but the person who made the video really risked his life. This was not a “bad shoot,” it was cold blooded murder. I agree with the posts that Aylor should be charged with an ethics violation.

  14. Matthew Stiegler

    True enough, except for this: “Was there some better way to handle this? Of course. Don’t abandon your client just because the tide turned on you and threatens to take your sweet gig as good cop defender and turn it into lying, murdering cop lawyer. Hey, that’s the job, kid. Welcome.”

    But staying on what had just become a capital murder case that he almost certainly was not qualified to handle was not “the job.” His reasons for jumping ship were wrong, but jumping ship was right.

    1. SHG Post author

      Whether it will be a capital murder case has yet to be seen, but that’s not the relevant inquiry. As noted above (since this has already been discussed here), if he was over his head, then his task would be to advise his client, assist in obtaining new counsel, assist in transition, then quietly walk away.

  15. Bruce Godfrey

    The duty to protect “secrets”, not merely “attorney-client communications”, under professional confidentiality is a part of the discussion. In this instance, the secret also implies something about the attorney-client relationship.

    Other than ego gratification and marketing, nothing comes from statements to the TV camera. Ever. The most that one can do safely is to acknowledge the professional representation and request that witnesses of the events referenced in the charging document please contact the law office. The mere claim to be the “best attorney” anywhere would be unethical by rule in MD and DC, and would be unethical in a generic sense planetwide, because it’s a lie designed to induce a important mistake.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m disinclined to the absolutes, that “nothing comes from statements to the TV camera. Ever.” It’s tactical, and like all tactical decisions, must be made wisely and solely in the client’s best interest.

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