CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A white police officer was charged with murder Tuesday after he shot and killed a black motorist during a traffic stop in South Carolina. A video showing the encounter captures the officer shooting the man in the back while he’s running away.
North Charleston Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager was arrested and charged after law enforcement officials saw a video of the shooting following a Saturday traffic stop, Mayor Keith Summey told a hastily called news conference.
Authorities say the victim, 50-year-old Walter Lamer Scott of Charleston, was shot after the officer already had hit him with a stun gun. A video of the shooting released to news media outlets shows the officer firing several times at the man’s back while he’s running away. It then shows the man falling down and the officer slowly walking toward him. Although Scott appears to be unresponsive, the officer places him in handcuffs.
Summey said at a news conference that Slager made a “bad decision.”
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey said. “When you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or a citizen on the street, you have to live with that decision.”
Slager’s attorney dropped him as a client Tuesday, a day after he had released a statement saying the officer felt threatened and that the motorist was trying to grab the officer’s stun gun.
“This is a terrible tragedy that has impacted our community,” the attorney, David Aylor, said.
North Charleston Police said Slager was arrested by officers of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said the Federal Bureau of Investigation will also investigate the shooting.
At the news conference, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers confirmed the suspect was shot as he was running away from the officer.
“I have been around this police department a long time and all the officers on this force, the men and women, are like my children,” he told reporters, his voice cracking with emotion. “So you tell me how a father would react seeing his child do something? I’ll let you answer that yourself.”
A woman who answered the phone at Scott’s residence identified herself as the victim’s niece but did not give her name. “That’s great. That’s great,” she said, when told about the murder charge, then hung up.
North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city and for years battled back from an economic slump caused by the closing of the Charleston Naval Base on the city’s waterfront in the mid-1990s.
But now the city has bounced back in a big way, largely in part to the huge investment by Boeing, which has a 787 aircraft manufacturing plant in the city and employs about 7,500 people in South Carolina, most of them in North Charleston.
The shooting occurred as heightened scrutiny is being placed on police officer shootings, particularly those that involve white officers and unarmed black suspects. A grand jury declined to indict Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown last August, leading to nationwide protests.
In a separate case in South Carolina, a white police officer who shot a 68-year-old black man to death last year in his driveway was charged Tuesday with a felony: discharging a gun into an occupied vehicle. A prosecutor previously tried to indict North Augusta officer Justin Craven on a manslaughter charge in the February 2014 death of Ernest Satterwhite. But a grand jury instead chose misconduct in office, which is a far lesser charge.
Craven chased Satterwhite for 9 miles beyond city limits to the man’s driveway in Edgefield County. After Satterwhite parked, the officer repeatedly fired through the driver-side door, prosecutors said. The 25-year-old officer faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the gun charge.
Associated Press writer Tom Foreman Jr. contributed to this report from Charlotte, N.C.