33-year-old South Carolina policeman Michael Slager was charged with murder on Tuesday after the release of a video showing him shoot a black man eight times in the back. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said local investigators decided to charge Slager with the murder of 50-year-old Walter Scott after observing the video of the incident, while the FBI and US Justice Department began their own separate investigations.
The shooting is the latest in a series of deaths following police confrontations in the United States, reinvigorating questions about racial profiling and police brutality.
The incident happened on Saturday in North Charleston, a town of approximately 100,000 people, nearly half of whom are black. The video showcasing the shooting garnered national attention after it was made public on Tuesday.
“If you make a bad decision, I don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision”, Summey told reporters.
Police said that the incident occurred after Scott was pulled over for a broken brake light. The video, recorded by a bystander and published by the New York Times, shows a brief brawl between Slager and Scott before the former former begins running away. Scott then proceeds to shoot Scott eight times in the back.
According to a police report, Slager, who joined the department in 2009, claimed that Scott had taken his stun gun. In the video, however, Scott appears to be unarmed.
Lying face-down, Slager approaches Scott and puts him in handcuffs before walking back several paces and opening fire. The video then shows him returning to Scott and dropping an object next to him on the ground. Summey and North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers have not answered questions regarding what the object was.
The mayor reassured the public that Slager had been dismissed from the department, but added that the city would cover insurance for his family until his wife gives birth.
Racial profiling and the police
The victim, Walter Scott, was a former member of the Coast Guard
The charge against Slager for murder draws many comparisons to similar incidents which have taken place in other cities across the United States, namely Ferguson and Cleveland. The ongoing issue regarding race and police conduct has been taken up to US President Barack Obama who has reportedly seen the Scott video.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, along with with U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, decried the incident as “horrific”. Civil rights leaders called for calm on social media, where #WalterScott has been trending, while praising the witness who recorded the video.
Protesters who have taken to North Charleston’s City Hall bearing signs saying “the whole world is watching” and “back turned, don’t shoot” said Scott’s death should not be viewed as an isolated incident.
According to Thom Berry, a spokesman for the state’s law enforcement, the shooting has been the 11th incident involving a police officer in South Carolina this year and the second one in North Charleston.
Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Scott family, said that they plan to sue to city, which allocates about a third of its $105.6 million budget to the police force. Legal experts estimate that North Charleston may end up paying a significant amount to the family.
Slager, who like Scott was a former member of the Coast Guard, was involved in prior incidents of misconduct, including shooting a man with a stun gun without cause in 2013 and failing to fill out an incident report. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.