North Charleston police chief 'praying for peace'

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
North Charleston, S.C. Police Chief Eddie Driggers addresses a news conference after a police officer was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of a black resident following a routine traffic stop. | ABC News/SCREEN CAPTURE

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (Christian Examiner) – The cell phone of a passer-by that caught the action between a white police officer and a black man April 4 was used as evidence to charge the police officer with murder on April 7.

A routine traffic stop for a broken brake light instigated the altercation that resulted in the shooting death of Walter Scott, 50, a Coast Guard veteran and father of four.

"We're going to continue to strive to do what's right," said North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers during a press conference at City Hall. "I have been praying for peace -- peace for the family and peace for this community. ..."

The video shows Scott slapping away the Taser held on him by Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager, 33, and then running away with knees high. "Wires from Slager's Taser stretch from Scott's clothing to the officer's hands," according to an article in the Post and Courier local newspaper.

"I have watched the video and was sickened by what I saw," Driggers continued.

Slager can be seen pulling his sidearm, quickly firing seven shots, then pausing before an eighth shot, which is the one that took Scott to the ground.

Feidin Santana told NBC News he was walking to work Saturday morning when he saw Slager controlling Scott on the ground, and began recording when he heard the sound of a Taser.

"Mr. Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser," said Santana, a barber originally from the Dominican Republic.

Scott also may have been running from possible arrest on an outstanding bench warrant for failure to pay child support.

Slager initially claimed he fired in self-defense after Scott grabbed his Taser. Santana's recording instead documented Scott running, the police officer not saying "Stop!" or anything else, but instead firing eight shots at the fleeing man's back.

Slager then made a call on his radio, walked over to Scott facedown on the ground, cuffed the unresisting man, and walked briskly back the 30 feet to where the altercation had started. The video continued to record as Slager picked up something, took it to the prone man, and dropped it by his feet.

A black police officer, Clarence Habersham walked up from another direction, bent down and with hands protected with blue gloves, checked Scott's condition. The two police officers exchanged words, Habersham left, Slager picked up the object he had dropped, and the video ended.

The police chief turned over investigation of the case to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) before the video was produced on Tuesday, and Attorney David Aylor on Monday had released a statement on Slager's behalf.

The attorney on Tuesday said he wasn't representing the officer anymore. The police department Tuesday said Slager, a five-year veteran with the department, had been fired, though his health insurance will continue to be paid for a time because of his eight-months-pregnant wife.

At a press conference Wednesday, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey appealed to keep protests peaceful. The police department recently had received a grant for 150 body cameras for officers to wear, and Summey was ordering another 150 for the department, which has 343 sworn officers, according to the local newspaper.

The news conference at which the police chief also spoke was meant to quiet the uproar, but both men were interrupted several times with questions they said they couldn't answer, since the investigation had been turned over to the state police.

The video also prompted the FBI and the Justice Department to announce on Wednesday a federal probe, the Associated Press reported.

Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks wrote Wednesday that for years, "the North Charleston Police Department has been accused of racial profiling, of treating black suspects much more harshly than whites," and though some scoffed, "the NAACP has long insisted that far too many police officers use minor traffic violations as an excuse to detain back men, search them and their cars – basically, to violate their civil rights."

Slager "hit the lights on his patrol car and pulled over Scott for having a faulty brake light, just as [Scott] was turning into the parking lot of a Remount Road auto parts store," Hicks continued. "A place where, reasonable people might assume, he was going specifically to take care of this problem."

Mayor Summey said Slager's actions were "indefensible." Though the officer initially said Scott had taken his Taser, the 50-year-old man was found with one of the Taser prongs in his back, five bullet wounds to his back, and one to his ear.

When you're wrong, you're wrong," Mayor Summey said. "If you make a bad decision, don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision."

As of 2 a.m. Thursday, the North Charleston police department said there had been no reported civic unrest in what is the third-largest city in South Carolina, with about 105,000 residents of which 48 percent are white and 45 percent black.