South Carolina officials charged a North Charleston police officer with murder on Tuesday afternoon after video footage of the officer shooting an unarmed black man led to the officer's arrest. The footage, which was made available to The New York Times today through the victim's lawyer, was originally captured on Saturday by a bystander who witnessed the traffic stop firsthand. Today, the mayor of North Charleston addressed reporters in a news conference, maintaining that the arrest and subsequent charges were valid.
"When you’re wrong, you’re wrong," said Mayor Keith Summey. "And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision." Chief of Police Eddie Driggers called it a "tragic day for many." By 6 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Officer Michael T. Slager, 33, had been arrested and booked into the Charleston County Jail. The reaction was comparatively swift, considering that the shooting itself occurred just days ago. So what did the allegedly incriminating video, which led directly to Slager's arrest, show?
While Slager himself maintained in official accounts that he had feared for his life after the victim, 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, reportedly stole his Taser, the uncovered footage told a much more gruesome story.
The Times reported that Slager alleged he had chased Scott to a grassy side-lot near a local muffler shop and fired his stun gun, indicating that the Taser had not stopped him. But in the video, Scott, who had been pulled over for a routine traffic stop after the officer reportedly noticed the Mercedes Benz's broken taillight, can allegedly be seen ducking away from Slager as the officer reaches back to his sidearm and pulls it from its holster — in direct opposition to what Slager had recorded in his official papers.
The footage begins with Scott half-facing the officer, wires from the stun gun extending from his body. After a brief grapple, a dark object, presumed to be the Taser, falls to the ground between the two men as Scott turns to run. The object is left unattended as Slager draws his weapon and takes aim. Scott is then seen running from the officer. Slager then discharges his weapon at Scott's back (the Times report estimated Scott's distance from Slager at the time to be around 15 to 20 feet), firing a total of eight times.
According to the footage, Scott seems to lose his footing around the fifth shot. By the eighth shot, he falls to the ground face-down. Slager is seen approaching the man yelling "Shots fired" into his radio. Slager then leans down and handcuffs Scott, instructing him to "put [his] hands behind [his] back" numerous times over. After cuffing Scott, Slager then allegedly runs back to the location of the initial scuffle, picks up an object off the ground (presumed to be the Taser), and drops it next to Scott's body.
According to police reports, Slager told the responding dispatcher, "Shots fired and the subject is down, he took my Taser." It was unclear whether the object placed next to Scott was the stun gun or another object. If it turns out that Slager planted evidence, the footage will only serve to strengthen the damning case against the North Charleston officer.
NBC News reported Tuesday that the officer had been with the department since 2009. In his statements, Chief Driggers indicated that the gruesome incident was in no way indicative of the other men and women on the force. He told reporters:
It is not reflective of the entire police department and the city of North Charleston. One does not totally throw a blanket across the many, and I think that's true in life, so it is a tragic event.
Images: New York Times video footage screenshot