Cop charged with murder of black man

2015-04-08 20:51
Frame from video provided by the attorney Walter Lamer Scott family, struggling with City Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager. (Courtesy of L Chris Stewart, AP)

Frame from video provided by the attorney Walter Lamer Scott family, struggling with City Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager. (Courtesy of L Chris Stewart, AP)

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Charleston - A white police officer who claimed he killed a black man in self-defence was charged with murder after a bystander's video recorded him firing eight shots at the man's back as he ran away. Government authorities sought to contain the outcry as protests began over the latest death of an unarmed black man at the hands of US law enforcement agents.

The video, provided to the dead man's family and lawyer by an unidentified person who shot the footage, shows officer Michael Thomas Slager dropping his stun gun, pulling out his handgun and firing at Walter Lamer Scott from a distance as he runs away. The 50-year-old man falls after the eighth shot, fired after a brief pause.

The shooting in North Charleston, South Carolina's third-largest city, comes amid an ongoing nationwide debate over issues of trust between law enforcement and minority communities.

About 75 people gathered outside City Hall in North Charleston, led by a Black Lives Matter, a group formed after the fatal shooting of another black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

"Eight shots in the back!" organizer Muhiydin D'Baha hollered through a bullhorn, and the crowd yelled "In the back!" in response.

The sheriff whose jurisdiction includes North Charleston attended the rally, while Mayor Keith Summey and the city police chief visited Scott's family to offer their condolences.

The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division have opened their own investigation.

Protests, some violent, erupted in many cities last year following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City. The furore grew after separate grand juries declined to indict the white officers who killed the unarmed black men.

Summey announced the charge against Slager at a news conference on Tuesday. Authorities said Scott was shot after the officer had already hit the man with a stun gun after a traffic stop on Saturday that began over a faulty brake light.

Slager, who has been with the North Charleston police for five years, could face 30 years to life in prison, if convicted.

Scott's parents appeared separately on TV shows Wednesday morning.

Walter Scott Sr told the NBC Today Show that his son may have run because he owed child support, which can lead to jail time in South Carolina.

Scott Sr said that in the video, the officer "looked like he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods."

Judy Scott called the video "the most horrible thing I've ever seen."

"I almost couldn't look at it to see my son running defenselessly, being shot. It just tore my heart to pieces," she said on ABC's Good Morning America.

Attorneys for the family said the man who shot the video is assisting investigators. The person has not been identified.

L Chris Stewart, an attorney for Scott's family, said the video forced authorities to act quickly and decisively. "What if there was no video? What if there was no witness, or hero as I call him, to come forward?" asked Stewart.

Al Cannon, the county sheriff, said he thinks investigators would have seen through the officer's lies without the video, but the video made their job easier.

Slager's then-attorney David Aylor had released a statement on Monday saying the officer felt threatened and that Scott was trying to grab Slager's stun gun. Aylor dropped Slager as a client after the video surfaced.

The footage shows Scott falling after the shots and then the officer slowly walking toward Scott and ordering the man to put his hands behind his back. When Scott doesn't move, Slager pulls his arms back and cuffs his hands. Then he walks briskly back to where he fired the shots, picks up an object, and returns back to Scott before dropping the object by Scott's feet, the video shows.

Scott had four children, was engaged and had no violent offenses on his record, Stewart said.

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