Seeing is believing. Graphic cellphone video footage has landed Police Officer Michael Slager behind bars. The North Charleston, SC cop was shown firing at an unarmed black man as he ran away. At least 8 shots were fired. Unlike the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, where there were conflicting accounts leading to the teen’s death by Officer Darren Wilson, there is ample video evidence to show what happened.
This is the latest case in which an unarmed black man has been shot and killed by a white officer. And like similar cases, it began with a traffic stop. After being pulled over for a busted brake light on Saturday, victim Walter Scott, who had warrants in Family Court, begins running. The officer fires seven times, pauses, and then fires an eighth round as Scott slumps to the ground, according to reports.
"That officer thought he could just shoot this man. He thought Mr. Scott was expendable,” said family Attorney Chris Stewart.
After the shooting, the person videotaping was heard saying “abuse.” He turned over the video to Scott’s family, who shared it with police. Charges were filed less than an hour after the city's mayor and police chief received the video. Slager was fired from his post and taken into custody Tuesday. Both the FBI and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division are investigating the shooting. He had been with the department for five years and previously served in the Coast Guard. If convicted, Slager could face the death penalty or life in prison.
Slager was booked into the Charleston County Jail about 6 p.m. local time on a murder charge, and was denied bond during a brief court appearance. He is likely to appear before a Circuit Court judge Friday.
“This is a bad decision by one of those 343 (officers). As a result of that video and the bad decision made by our officer, he will be charged with murder,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Sumney, said.
Had video been available in the case of Michael Brown and other unarmed black men like Trayvon Martin, white officers might not have been so easily acquitted. Ordinarily, without video evidence, the officer’s account carries more weight. The video in Scott’s case, and even Slager’s own account, shows a clear contradiction of facts. Police reports show that Slager said he used his Taser. He later said: "Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser," according to reports. Slager told authorities he shot Scott because he felt threatened, yet Scott was clearly shown sprinting away from him, unarmed. Slager was also seen dropping an object at Scott’s feet as he lay on the ground.
"It would have just been the standard story of a police officer giving his version and that would be the end of it," Stewart said. "In this case, this officer gave his story, and it turned out not to be true."
This isn’t the first time Slager has been accused of unnecessary use of force. In September 2013, a burglary suspect filed a complaint, but Slager was exonerated.
“I don’t want to see anyone get shot down the way that my brother got shot down,” Anthony Scott said. “If there wasn’t a video, would we have known the truth?”
The department does not use body cameras.