Shooting of Walter Scott
Screenshot from witness video, showing Officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott
|Date||April 4, 2015|
|Time||9:30 a.m. (EDT)|
|Location||North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.|
|Filmed by||Feidin Santana|
|Convictions||Deprivation of rights under color of law|
|Sentence||20 years in prison|
|Litigation||Wrongful death lawsuit settled for $6.5 million|
On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed in North Charleston, South Carolina by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. Slager had stopped Scott for a non-functioning brake light. Slager was charged with murder after a video surfaced showing him shooting Scott from behind while Scott was fleeing, which contradicted Slager's report of the incident. The race difference led many to believe that the shooting was racially motivated, generating a widespread controversy.
The case was independently investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina, and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division conducted their own investigations. In June 2015, a South Carolina grand jury indicted Slager on a charge of murder. He was released on bond in January 2016. In late 2016, a five-week trial ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury. In May 2016, Slager was indicted on federal charges including violation of Scott's civil rights and obstruction of justice. In a May 2017 plea agreement, Slager pleaded guilty to federal charges of civil rights violations, and he was returned to jail pending sentencing. In return for his guilty plea, the state's murder charges were dropped.
Walter Lamar Scott[note 1] was a 50-year-old forklift operator, studying massage therapy. An arrest warrant had been issued since a January 16, 2013 court hearing regarding his child support payments. Scott had previously been jailed three times because of the child support payments. Scott previously served two years in the U.S. Coast Guard before being given a general discharge in 1986 for a drug-related offense.
Michael Thomas Slager, 33 years old at the time of the incident, served in the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD) for five years and five months prior to the shooting. Before becoming a police officer, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Slager was named in a police complaint in 2013 for allegedly using a Taser on a man without cause. Slager was cleared by the police department over the incident; the victim and several witnesses said they were not interviewed. Following the Scott killing, North Charleston police stated they would re-review the 2013 complaint. Slager was named in a second tasing-without-cause complaint following an August 2014 police stop. A complaint filed in January 2015 resulted in Slager being cited for failing to file a report.
Local residents have complained that police activity in North Charleston includes the harassment and racial profiling of African Americans, including frequent use of Tasers without cause. In North Charleston, whites make up 37% of the population, but the police department is 80% white.
|on YouTube (4:00)|
At 9:30 a.m., April 4, 2015, in the parking lot of an auto parts store at 1945 Remount Road, Slager stopped Scott for a non-functioning third brake light. Scott was driving a 1991 Mercedes, and, according to his brother, was headed to the auto parts store when he was stopped. The video from Slager's dashcam shows him approaching Scott's car, speaking to Scott, and then returning to his patrol car. Scott exited his car and fled with Slager giving chase on foot.
Slager pursued Scott into a lot behind a pawn shop at 5654 Rivers Avenue, and the two became involved in a physical altercation. At some point before or during the struggle, Slager fired his Taser, hitting Scott. Scott fled, and Slager drew his .45-caliber Glock 21 handgun, firing eight rounds at him from behind. The coroner's report stated that Scott was struck a total of five times: three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks, and once on one of his ears. During Slager's state trial, forensic pathologist Lee Marie Tormos testified that the fatal wound was caused by a bullet that entered Scott's back and struck his lungs and heart.
Immediately following the shooting, Slager radioed a dispatcher, stating, "Shots fired and the subject is down. He grabbed my Taser."
When Slager fired his gun, Scott was approximately 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m) away and fleeing. In the report of the shooting filed before the video surfaced, Slager said he had feared for his life because Scott had taken his Taser, and that he shot Scott because he "felt threatened".
A toxicology report showed that Scott had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death. The level of cocaine was less than half the average amount for "typical impaired drivers", according to the report. Tormos testified that Scott did not test positive for alcohol.
|Shooting on Vimeo (3:12)|
An eyewitness to the shooting, Feidin Santana, recorded video of the incident on his phone. At first Santana did not share the video out of fear of retribution, but he became angered when the police report differed from his view of the events. In an interview on MSNBC, Santana said, "I felt that my life, with this information, might be in danger. I thought about erasing the video and just getting out of the community, you know Charleston, and living some place else." The video was subsequently shared with Scott's family through an activist of Black Lives Matter, and later with the news media.
Santana said that after a struggle in which Slager deployed his Taser, Scott was "just trying to get away from the Taser," and that before he started recording, he observed that Slager "had control of the situation". In an interview on The Today Show, Santana said Scott "never grabbed the Taser of the police. He never got the Taser."
After Scott was shot and had dropped to the ground, Slager approached him, repeatedly instructed him to place his hands behind his back, and handcuffed him, leaving him face down on the ground. Although police reports stated that officers performed CPR on Scott, no such action is visible on the video. The video shows that Slager ran back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picked something up off the ground. Moments later, he dropped the object, possibly the Taser, beside Scott's body.
Critics, such as the Reverend Al Sharpton and the predominantly African-American National Bar Association, called for the prosecution of Clarence Habersham, the second officer seen in the video, alleging an attempted cover-up and questioning "whether Habersham omitted significant information from his report." Critics also questioned Habersham's statement in his report that he "attempted to render aid to the victim by applying pressure to the gunshot wounds," saying that the videotape shows little attempt to aid Scott after the shooting.
Slager's original lawyer, David Aylor, withdrew as counsel within hours of the release of the video; he did not publicly give a reason for his withdrawal, citing attorney–client privilege.
On April 8, the North Charleston city manager announced that the NCPD had fired Slager but would continue to pay for his health insurance because his wife was pregnant. The town's mayor, Keith Summey, said they had ordered an additional 150 body cameras, enough that one could be worn by every police officer.
A GoFundMe campaign was started to raise money for Slager's defense, but it was quickly shut down by the site. Citing privacy concerns, they declined to go into detail about why the campaign was canceled, saying only that it was "due to a violation of our terms and conditions".
Scott's killing further fueled a national conversation around race and policing. It has been connected to similar controversial police shootings of black men in Missouri, New York, and elsewhere. The Black Lives Matter movement protested Scott's death.
A bill in the South Carolina state house, designed to equip more police officers with body cameras, was renamed for Scott. The Senate set aside $3.4 million to fund it, enough to buy 2,000 cameras for South Carolina officers.
In May 2016, a short documentary film about the shooting called Frame 394 was released by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The documentary is about Daniel Voshart, a Canadian cinematographer and image stabilization specialist, who claims to have discovered evidence in frame 394 of the shooting video "that challenged the accepted narrative of what transpired between Slager and Scott"; and it follows his "moral dilemma of what to do with this potential key evidence". Initially, Voshart examined the footage to help indict Slager, having been convinced by the footage that it "was an example of police corruption at its worst". After clarifying the video and inspecting frame 394, however, he noticed that as Slager began reaching to draw his firearm, it appeared that Scott was still holding Slager's Taser, "potentially enough to make Slager fear for his life and maybe meet the grounds needed to use lethal force." It was impactful in Slager's trial after Voshart showed Slager's lawyer, Andy Savage, the stabilized video. During the trial, the officer "testified that he did not realize the Taser had fallen behind him when he fired the fatal shots."
Prosecution and conviction of Slager
After the police department reviewed the video, Slager was arrested on April 7 and charged with murder. On June 8, a South Carolina grand jury indicted Slager on the murder charge.[note 2] The murder charge was the only charge presented to the grand jury.
On January 4, 2016, after being held without bail for almost nine months, Slager was released on $500,000 bond. He was confined to house arrest until the trial, which began October 31, 2016. On December 5, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury became deadlocked with 11 of the 12 jurors favoring a conviction. A retrial had been scheduled to begin in August 2017. However, the state charges were dropped as a result of Slager pleading guilty to a federal charge.
On May 11, 2016, Slager was indicted on federal charges of violating Scott's civil rights and unlawfully using a weapon during the commission of a crime. In addition, he was charged with obstruction of justice as a result of his statement to state investigators that Scott was moving toward him with the Taser when he shot him. Slager pleaded not guilty, and a trial was scheduled to begin in May 2017. Slager faced up to life in prison if convicted.
On May 2, 2017, as part of a plea agreement, Slager pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law (18 USC § 242). In return for the guilty plea, the charges of obstructing justice and use of a firearm during a crime of violence were dismissed.
On December 7, 2017, U.S. District Judge David C. Norton sentenced Slager to 20 years in prison. Although defense attorneys had argued for voluntary manslaughter, the judge agreed with prosecutors that the "appropriate underlying offense" was second-degree murder. Because there is no parole in the federal justice system, Slager will likely remain in prison about 18 years after credit for time served in jail. He began serving his sentence in Colorado's Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood in February 2018. An appeal for reduction of sentence was denied in January 2019. As of 2020, Slager, Federal Bureau of Prisons #31292-171, is still at FCI Englewood; his earliest possible release is August 16, 2033.
Walter Scott Notification Act
- List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States
- Shooting of Alton Sterling
- Shooting of Michael Brown
- Shooting of Philando Castile
- Shooting of Tamir Rice
- Shooting of Botham Jean
- "Judge allows lesser charge of manslaughter in former South Carolina cop's murder trial". Chicago Tribune. November 30, 2016. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- "Prosecutor: Officer's shooting of unarmed man in back "flat out wrong"". CBS News. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- "Controversial Police Encounters Fast Facts". CNN. March 26, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
- Blinder, Alan (May 2, 2017). "Ex-Officer Who Shot Walter Scott Pleads Guilty in Charleston". The New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
- Murdock, Sebastian (May 2, 2017). "Michael Slager Pleads Guilty In Killing Of Unarmed, Fleeing Black Man Walter Scott". HuffPost. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
- Edwards, Meridith; Andone, Dakin (December 7, 2017). "Slager gets 20 years for Walter Scott killing". CNN. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
- "Indictment against Michael Thomas Slager". Los Angeles Times. June 8, 2015. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
- "Walter Scott Funeral: Mourners Pay Respects to South Carolina Man Killed by Cop". NBC News. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
- Robles, Frances. "Racism Denounced at Walter Scott's Funeral One Week After Police Shooting New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
- Smith, Bruce (April 8, 2015). "White SC officer charged with murder in black man's shooting". Associated Press. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Ford, Dana (April 7, 2015). "South Carolina policeman charged with murder". CNN. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- "Walter Scott Had Bench Warrant for His Arrest, Court Documents Show". NBC News. April 11, 2015.
- Holpuch, Amanda (April 10, 2015). "Walter Scott: uncertainty over arrest warrant for thousands owed in child support". The Guardian.
- Campbell, Colin (April 9, 2015). "Walter Scott, killed by S.C. officer, served in Coast Guard at Curtis Bay". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
- Goldstein, Sasha (April 8, 2015). "Michael Slager: What you should know about the North Charleston cop who killed Walter Scott". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
- "Officer Michael Thomas Slager of South Carolina: What we know about him". CNN. April 8, 2015. Archived from the original on April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Schuppe, Jon (April 10, 2015). "North Charleston Man Filed Abuse Complaint Against Officer Michael Slager in 2013". NBC News.
- Sickles, Jason (April 14, 2015). "Video captured 2014 Taser shooting involving officer Michael Slager". Yahoo! News. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
- Blinder, Alan; Fernandez, Manny (April 9, 2015). "South Carolina Police Shooting Seen as Crime Strategy Gone Awry". The New York Times.
- Daily, Michael (April 8, 2015). "'Taser Town' And The Shots Heard 'Round The World'". The Daily Beast.
- McCormack, Simon (April 8, 2015). "Demographics Of North Charleston Police Department Tell A Familiar Story". The Huffington Post.
- Knapp, Andrew (April 6, 2015). "Attorney: North Charleston police officer felt threatened before fatal shooting". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Archived from the original on May 15, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- Knapp, Andrew (April 9, 2015). "To North Charleston police critics, dash video strikes at heart of problem". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
- "Large crowd attends funeral for Walter Scott, man shot by S.C. police officer charged with murder". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio. April 11, 2015. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
- Fantz, Ashley; Yan, Holly (April 9, 2015). "Dash cam video shows the moments before South Carolina police shooting". CNN. Archived from the original on April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Sandoval, Polo; Almasy, Steve (April 10, 2015). "Walter Scott's passenger meets with police as family plans burial". CNN.
- Berman, Mark; Lowery, Wesley; Kindy, Kimberly (April 7, 2015). "South Carolina police officer charged with murder after shooting man during traffic stop". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Schmidt, Michael S.; Apuzzo, Matt (April 7, 2015). "South Carolina Officer Is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 7, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
- [includes indictment document] Dixon, Chris; Lewin, Tamar (May 11, 2016). "South Carolina Officer Faces Federal Charges in Fatal Shooting". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- "The Latest: Attorneys Spar Over Victim's Drug Use". The New York Times. November 9, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
- Knapp, Andrew (April 7, 2015). "North Charleston officer faces murder charge after video shows him shooting man in back". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Shoichet, Catherine E.; Cuevas, Mayra (September 10, 2015). "Walter Scott shooting case: Court documents reveal new details". CNN. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
- "Police Shooting Witness Says He Saw Officer Drop Something by Walter Scott's Body". Archived from the original on April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Eversley, Melanie (April 9, 2015). "Man who shot S.C. cell phone video speaks out". USA Today.
- Helsel, Phil (April 8, 2015). "Walter Scott Death: Bystander Who Recorded Cop Shooting Speaks Out". NBC News.
- "Coroner: Walter Scott died from multiple gunshot wounds to the back". WCSC-TV. Charleston, South Carolina. April 8, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
- "Bystander: S.C. victim, cop struggled before killing". USA Today. April 8, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
- Hanna, Jason (April 9, 2015). "South Carolina shooting victim didn't grab Taser, witness Feidin Santana says". KMOV. St. Louis, Missouri.
- Kim, Eun Kyung. "Feidin Santana, bystander who recorded Walter Scott shooting: 'I'm still scared'". Today. (original interview with Today)
- CNN wire; Spillman, Eric (April 9, 2015). "Walter Scott Didn't Grab Taser, Man Who Recorded South Carolina Police Shooting Video Says". KTLA. Los Angeles, California. Archived from the original on May 31, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Blinder, Alan; Williams, Timothy (June 8, 2015). "Former South Carolina Officer Indicted in Death of Walter Scott". The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
- Swaine, Jon (April 9, 2015). "South Carolina shooting witness: victim 'just wanted to get away from the Taser'". The Guardian. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- Fernandez, Manny (April 17, 2015). "After Walter Scott Shooting, Scrutiny Turns to 2nd Officer". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
- Linshi, Jack. "South Carolina Shooting: Critics Want 2nd Officer in Video Prosecuted". Time.
- Blinder, Alan (April 13, 2015). "Critics call for 2nd officer to be prosecuted in Carolina shooting". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
- Robles, Frances; Blinder, Alan (April 8, 2015). "Seeing Path to Justice in Video of Shooting on Bystander's Phone". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 9, 2015. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
- Hutchins, Corey (April 8, 2015). "Exclusive: Michael Slager's Attorney Dropped Him After Video Emerged". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
- "Aylor No Longer Represents North Charleston Police Officer". Official website of David Aylor (Press release). Retrieved October 23, 2015.
- "City takes action against cop who shot black man in back". CBS News. Associated Press. April 8, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
- Williams, Lauren C. "GoFundMe Rejects Campaign To Support South Carolina Officer Charged With Murder". ThinkProgress. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- "Walter Scott". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved April 11, 2015 – via Legacy.com.
- Ford, Dana (April 14, 2015). "New audio captures aftermath of deadly South Carolina shooting". CNN. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- "From Trayvon Martin to Walter Scott: Cases in the Spotlight". Time. April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
- Fields, Liz. "After Walter Scott Killing, Black Lives Matter Movement Calls For Citizen Oversight of Police". Vice. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
- Borden, Jeremy (May 13, 2015). "Bill equipping more officers with body cameras OK'd, renamed for Walter Scott". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Archived from the original on May 18, 2015. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
- Astorga-Garcia, Mila (August 19, 2016). "Young Fil-Can's work wins as best short documentary in U.S. filmfest". Community (News & Features). Philippine Reporter. Archived from the original on August 18, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
It [Frame 394] had its World Premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto in May 2016.
- O'Falt, Chris (December 9, 2016). "Walter Scott Shooting Revisited: How This Oscar-Shortlisted Doc Shook Up a National Story". IndieWire. Penske Media Corporation. Archived from the original on August 17, 2017. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
The response was staggering—comments expressing hatred and violence toward Slager shocked Voshart, who was convinced the video was an example of police corruption at its worst. [...] It's during this process that he discovered something no one else had seen: There was something in frame 394 that challenged the accepted narrative of what transpired between Slager and Scott, and could potentially even help Slager's defense. [...] Directed by Rich Williamson, 'Frame 394' is about Voshart's moral dilemma of what to do with this potential key evidence.
- Deschamps, Tara (March 10, 2017). "'Frame 394' documentary questions what happened in Walter Scott police shooting in South Carolina". Entertainment (Movies). Toronto Star. Torstar. ISSN 0319-0781. Archived from the original on August 18, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
Voshart's work drastically impacted the officer's trial. [...] Hundreds of miles away, in his Toronto apartment, Voshart, a then-28-year-old cinematographer who had recently been toying with video stabilization, thought he could unravel the mystery of the Taser and help get Slager indicted. [...] By then, Voshart had made the footage so clear that as Slager reached to unholster his gun, Scott could be seen holding what looked like Slager's Taser—potentially enough to make Slager fear for his life and maybe meet the grounds needed to use lethal force.
- Berman, Mark (December 7, 2017). "Former South Carolina police officer who shot Walter Scott sentenced to 20 years". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
- Bowers, Paul (April 9, 2015). "SLED awaiting approval to release Walter Scott dash cam footage". Charleston City Paper. Archived from the original on April 17, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
- Martinez, Michael (April 8, 2015). "South Carolina cop shoots unarmed man: A timeline". CNN. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
- Mcleod, Harriet (June 8, 2015). "South Carolina ex-police officer indicted in death of black man". Reuters. Archived from the original on June 8, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
- Knapp, Andrew (January 4, 2016). "Michael Slager, officer charged in Walter Scott shooting, is granted $500,000 bail". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
- Shoichet, Catherine E.; Friedman, Chandler (January 4, 2016). "Walter Scott case: Michael Slager granted bail". CNN. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
- "Trial of Officer Seen on Video Shooting Black Man Starting". The New York Times. Associated Press. October 31, 2016. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
- Blinder, Alan (December 5, 2016). "Jurors Unable to Agree in Trial of South Carolina Officer Who Shot Walter Scott". The New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Knapp, Andrew (January 24, 2017). "Judge pushes Michael Slager retrial to August, shifting focus to federal civil rights case". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
- Yan, Holly; Shah, Khushbu; Grinberg, Emanuella (May 2, 2017). "Ex-officer Michael Slager pleads guilty in death of Walter Scott". CNN.
- "Fired Officer Wants Judge to Toss Video of Him Shooting Man". The New York Times. Associated Press. March 10, 2017. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
- Knapp, Andrew (August 4, 2016). "Michael Slager to have first federal hearing since arraignment". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
- "Global Plea Agreement" (PDF).
- Knapp, Andrew; Rindge, Brenda (May 2, 2017). "Ex-police officer Michael Slager pleads guilty to civil rights charge in Walter Scott shooting; state murder case dropped". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
- Boroff, David (December 7, 2017). "Slager gets 19 to 24 years in fatal shooting of Walter Scott". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
- Pyke, Alan (December 7, 2017). "Killer cop Michael Slager sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing Walter Scott". ThinkProgress. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
- Knapp, Andrew (February 9, 2018). "Ex-policeman Michael Slager serving time at Colorado prison with Blagojevich, Jared Fogle". The Post and Courier. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
- Majchrowicz, Michael; Jackson, Angie (January 8, 2019). "Appeal denied for ex-North Charleston officer who fatally shot Walter Scott". The Post and Courier. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
- "Michael Slager's conviction appeal denied". WSPA. Spartanburg, South Carolina. Associated Press. January 8, 2019. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
- Lowery, Wesley (October 8, 2015). "North Charleston reaches $6.5 million settlement with Walter Scott's family". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
- Video Shows Fatal Police Shooting. The New York Times. April 7, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015. (with annotations and enhanced close up of a dropped object)
- Walter Scott shooting footage synced with police scanner audio – video. The Guardian. April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2015. (Entire video with annotations)