A white former South Carolina police officer accused of killing an unarmed black driver who ran from a traffic stop had been left alone to patrol a high crime area, and the encounter probably would have ended differently if he had backup, a supervisor testified Friday in a pretrial hearing.
Michael Slager is charged with murder in April 2015 the shooting of Walter Scott.
During a hearing to determine if Slager’s statements about the incident could be used against him at his trial, his attorney laid out big chunks of the defense’s case just 10 days before jury selection starts.
Slager’s North Charleston police supervisors said he was a good officer and well-regarded before he stopped Scott for a broken brake light. Scott fled when Slater returned to his patrol car to check for warrants. Scott’s family said he was afraid there was an arrest warrant for not paying child support.
A bystander’s video of Slater shooting Scott several times in the back has been seen worldwide. Defense attorney Andy Savage is trying to show there’s much more to the case than that clip.
Questioning the prosecution’s evidence in big and small ways, Savage revealed a State Law Enforcement Division test shows damage on Slager’s uniform shirt that may have been caused by a Taser. Slager told investigators he shot his gun because Scott grabbed his Taser and pointed it at him as the two fought on the ground.
Savage noted that the agent in charge of SLED’s case had just six months’ experience and had never before led a homicide investigation. Savage said the agent lied to Slager’s first lawyer when he asked if there was a tape of the shooting. Had Slager known about it, he might have been more careful in recounting what happened.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman rejected the argument and will allow Slager’s statements at his trial. He ruled that police are allowed to be deceptive with suspects and attorneys when they question them, as long as they inform them of their rights. Prosecutors say Slager’s version of events differs from the video.
Along with vigorously questioning the scientific evidence, Savage also got police supervisors to testify that no officers were nearby when Slager pulled Scott over, and he knew it.
Slager was “one officer alone in the most dangerous sector of the city,” Savage said.
Several officers began driving toward Slager after he reported he was chasing Scott, but none arrived before the shooting, North Charleston Police Sgt. James Gann said.
Gann said Scott likely could have been arrested without serious injury if two officers had been on the scene.
While prosecutors played defense Friday, they still have plenty of evidence of their own beyond the bystander video. Slager never told his supervisors on the day of the shooting, or the SLED agents who interviewed him three days later, that he was hit by a Taser or that he was kicked, punched or attacked.
His justification for shooting Scott was the fleeing man pointing the Taser at the officer, while the first gunshots were fired from 10 to 15 feet away and struck Scott in the back, according to the video and investigators.
Newman also delayed ruling Friday on a motion to move the trial from Charleston. The defense wanted it moved because of publicity and the chance the federal trial of Dylann Roof, who police said killed nine black churchgoers in a racially motivated attack, will be going on at the same time across the street.
Newman also ordered any new motions in the case be filed in secret until he can review them.