A white South Carolina police officer was arrested and charged with murder Tuesday after video showed him fatally shooting a fleeing, unarmed Black man in the back.
North Charleston Police Officer Michael T. Slager, 33, can be seen shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott after a confrontation on Saturday, according to The Post and Courier. Slager chases Scott and shoots at him eight times in the video recorded by a passerby and obtained by The New York Times.
Scott died there, though it wasn’t clear if he died immediately.
The graphic video raises questions about Slager’s original assertion that he used his gun because he felt endangered.
The confrontation started when Slager had reportedly pulled over Scott because of a broken taillight. It escalated into a foot chase as Scott allegedly fled because there were family court-issued warrants for his arrest. Slager pursued Scott into a grassy lot and claimed that he fired his Taser to subdue him.
Moments later, Slager reported on his radio, “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” according to the Times.
Earlier this week, an attorney for Slager said the cop felt threatened after Scott tried to overpower him and take his Taser. Today that attorney told The Post and Courier that he’s “no longer involved” in the case.
But first images in the video are of Slager shooting at Scott as he runs away from him. It also appears that Slager drops the Taser near Scott after he was gunned down, according to The New York Times.
Police reports also say that responding officers performed CPR and delivered medical aid to Scott, but the video shows Scott face down in handcuffs for several minutes after the shooting. Another officer shows up and appears to give Scott aid, but never performs CPR.
The Post and Courier reports: “Police Chief Eddie Driggers said Tuesday that Slager had been arrested.
“The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that FBI investigators would work with the state Law Enforcement Division, which typically investigates officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, and the state’s attorney general to investigate any civil rights violations in Scott’s death. Mayor Keith Summey added during a news conference that as a result of the video and Slager’s ‘bad decision,’ the officer would be charged with murder.”
Scott had been arrested about 10 times in the past, mostly for failing to pay child support or show up for hearings, according to the paper.
“He has four children. He doesn’t have some type of big violent past or arrest record. He had a job, he was engaged,” a lawyer for Scott’s family told the Times. “He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for back child support.”
In a statement released Tuesday night, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said, “What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina.” Sen. Tim Scott (R) said, “The senseless shooting and taking of Walter Scott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable,” adding that he would be watching the case closely.
The shooting in North Charleston comes on the heels of several high-profile cases of police officers using deadly force against unarmed Black men in Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland and New York. This is one of the few times the offending officer has been charged with murder.
“What if there was no video? What if there was no witness? Where would we be without that video,” Justin Bamberg said at a press conference with the family on Tuesday night. Bamburg is one of the Scotts’ family attorneys and also represents South Carolina’s House District 90.
Family attorney L. Chris Stewart called the witness who recorded the video a “hero,” saying that video evidence disproved initial reports that Scott reached for the Slager’s Taser. Stewart added that the witness is working with investigators and may eventually come forward.
Bamberg told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell that the witness contacted the family following the shooting. They were the first to watch the video.
“If there was no video, I do not believe that officer would be in jail,” Bamberg said. “From what the video shows, I think that provides the necessary ammunition to hold this officer accountable.”
“If there was no video, I do not believe that officer would be in jail,” said Justin Bamberg, a family attorney and state House member.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, a state agency also known as SLED, was later contacted and promptly launched an investigation.
“I don’t think anybody can see that and not see that what that officer did was murder Mr. Scott in cold blood,” Bamberg said. “What would have happened if this witness did not have the courage to stand up and do the right thing and decide that what he witnessed was wrong? I’m glad we don’t have to ponder that.”
Stewart also said that they will file a civil lawsuit. The family urged the public to fight for justice legally instead of through violence.
“We can’t get my brother back,” Scott’s brother Anthony said. “I don’t think all police officers are bad cops, but there are some bad ones out there.”
“I had two brothers. Now I have one,” he said tearing up. He recalled his brother as an outgoing man who served in the Coast Guard and was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
Andy Campbell, editor of Huffington Post’s Crime and Weird News sections, can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AndyBCampbell. This story first appeared on Huffington Post.