On April 4, 2015, former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager fired eight rounds at Walter Scott as the 50-year-old black man ran away.
On Monday, Slager walked out of the courtroom after a judge declared a mistrial because one of the 12 jurors could not “with good conscience consider a guilty verdict.” Later, the prosecutor reportedly told Scott’s family that Slager will quickly be retried.
If Slager were a civilian, he would likely spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting an unarmed person who was fleeing an encounter. But Slager is a police officer, and they often walk free after they’ve used lethal force on a subject ― regardless of whether it was justified.
We’ve seen this before. In 2015, the number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter was three times the decade average, but zero officers have been convicted.
The officers who killed Freddie Gray, 25, in Baltimore, Tamir Rice, 12, in Cleveland, Eric Garner, 43, in New York and Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, all went free for various reasons. Some weren’t even charged.
But Slager was charged, and there’s clear video of what happened. Still, his trial stands out in the most perplexing and infuriating way: The officer’s testimony does not correlate with video evidence of the shooting.
Warning: This video contains graphic content.
Police dash camera footage shows that Slager pulled Scott over for a broken tail light. Scott gave Slager his license and explained that he didn’t have a registration or insurance information with him because he was in the process of buying the car.
In the police footage, Slager walks back to the squad car with Scott’s license in hand as Scott and his passenger wait for the officer to return. Scott tries to get out of his car, but Slager orders him to get back in. A few seconds later, Scott opens the door and runs away. Slager pursues Scott on foot.
A cell phone video, recorded by bystander Feidin Santana, picks up where the dash camera left off.
In Santana’s video, Scott is running away from Slager as the officer fires eight rounds, striking Scott five times. Scott died from gunshot wounds to the back.
Slager said during his trial that he felt “total fear” as Scott charged toward him. He also claimed that Scott had grabbed his Taser and intended to fire it. “I see him with a Taser in his hand as I see him spinning around,” Slager said. “That’s the only thing I see: that Taser in his hand.”
In fact, the video evidence does not show Scott with a Taser when he is killed ― it shows Slager dropping a Taser near Scott’s body after he is shot.
When pressed by the prosecutor to explain, Slager said, “I don’t remember everything that happened.” He says he was concerned that Scott was “running for some reason” and that he was “going to lose” in a struggle with Scott.
“I pulled my firearm, and I pulled the trigger,” said Slager. “I fired until the threat was stopped, like I’m trained to do.”
Slager’s allusion to the black man’s supposed physical strength and insistence that he was threatening him ― disputed by the video evidence ― demonstrates the officer’s fear of black masculinity and his perception that black people are inherently criminal.
This is also evident in Slager’s interview with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agents soon after the shooting. Because Scott was on the phone, shouting out his location to someone on the other end, Slager said he worried that he would never see his family again. So he decided to take another man away from his.
The person on the line with Scott was his mother.
Scott, a father of four, was likely running away to avoid being arrested for not paying child support. He owed more than $18,000 and there was a bench warrant out for his arrest when the shooting occurred.
None of that matters. Running away from an officer and being behind in child support payments are not crimes punishable by death.
Unless you’re black.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Scott’s age as 53.