Video footage taken by a bystander played a key role in the arrest of a North Charleston police officer on murder charges Tuesday.
Of all the recent high-profile incidents that have seen white U.S. police officers accused of being far too quick to resort to lethal force against black male suspects, the videotaped evidence against Officer Michael Slager may be the most clear-cut.
Slager, 33, of the North Charleston, South Carolina, police department, was arrested and charged with murder late Tuesday in the shooting death of Walter L. Scott, 50, The Post and Courier, a local newspaper in Charleston, reports. The Post and Courier and The New York Times have both published graphic video footage of the incident taken by a bystander, which North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said in a news conference on Tuesday was the key piece of evidence that led to Slager's arrest.
"When you're wrong, you're wrong," Summey said.
The video made waves on social media shortly after the arrest was announced, and it's plain to see why. In his initial report on the incident, which took place Saturday, Slager said that he had he feared for his life because Scott grabbed his Taser from him in a scuffle after a traffic stop. But the video, which we're embedding here with a strong warning about its graphic and violent content, shows an entirely different story.
From the Times:
The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.
Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.
The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and and picks something off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.
The existence of this video is at once horrifying and a miracle, both not surprising and frustratingly rare. It will be seen around the world and watched thousands if not millions of times in the coming days. It will be held up as the best argument yet for mandatory body cameras on officers, and serve as a reminder that had this been body camera footage, there's a decent chance we might never have seen it in the first place. Most of all, it appears to be one of the clearest tests yet for a criminal justice system that has twice in recent months, in Ferguson and in New York, chosen not to prosecute the officers involved in similar cases.