Back when Officer Michael Slager was filmed shooting an unarmed and fleeing Walter Scott repeatedly in the back I concluded that, absent additional evidence to the contrary, we had found one of the rare “bad apples” in the law enforcement community and he would most likely have to pay for his deed. Granted, there were complicating factors in the case. While the encounter began over something beyond trivial (a failed light bulb) the situation quickly escalated. Scott resisted arrest and fled the scene. By the officer’s account, he did grab for Slager’s taser at a minimum and possibly his gun. But when the skirmish was concluded he had failed to secure either weapon and was jogging slowly away showing no signs of being armed when the shooting went down, only to be later aired in endless repetition across the cable dial.
Slager was later placed under arrest and scheduled to stand trial. That date is approaching and the former officer is releasing some details of the defense he plans to mount.
The South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott after he turned and ran says an infamous video does not show the whole story of what happened on the morning of April 4 — and he says the truth will come out.
“Just that three seconds of the video came out. And everybody thought I was racist, and I just got out of my car and just shot him in the back for no reason,” Officer Michael Slager told NBC News in a Skype interview from jail.
“That’s what makes me upset is that nobody knows what actually happened,” he said. “But now it’s gonna come out.”
The comments came as his lawyer outlined a defense: Slager didn’t know Scott was unarmed, felt threatened, and made a quick decision to shoot because he believed Scott might pull a gun and shoot him first.
Beyond the description of his state of mind, Slager goes on to claim that the evidence from the scene will show that Scott’s DNA was found on both his service weapon and his taser. That adds a bit of a twist to the case, though I’m not sure precisely how much impact it would have absent some new video which was never shown to the public. Obviously there was much public debate over whether Scott had actually tried to seize the taser or if Slager just tased him at a distance. DNA would go a long way toward supporting at least that part of his description of the events.
But does that really alter the ending to the ill fated encounter in the eyes of the jury? If we assume that Scott was trying to grab Slager’s weapons that certainly adds one more item to the list of things that Scott did wrong – criminally wrong in several cases – during the encounter, but he still failed to take charge of the weapons and fled without them. Slager seems to be making the case that he was still afraid that Scott was armed and might have turned around and shot him, so he took the preemptive shots (plural) to avoid being killed.
Again, assuming that there are no new bombshells to come in terms of evidence presented by the defense, I don’t see that swaying the jury all that much. If I’m the prosecutor in this case I’m going to be asking the jury to consider how reasonable that fear of another weapon would have been. If Scott were armed and they had already gotten down to close quarters combat, why make the attempt to steal Slager’s gun? If Slager is holding a taser and you’ve got a few feet between you, wouldn’t you just draw your own weapon and fire then? Also, the accuracy for most people with a handgun (particularly while running) goes down exponentially as the distance increases. Why would a rational observer think that Scott would have attempted to jog fifteen or twenty feet away, only then turning around to draw his weapon and fire?
Then there’s the inconvenient item about Slager moving the taser from where it fell to place it near Scott’s body, compromising the crime scene before backup could arrive. That seemed pretty clearly established on the video and it will probably go a long way for the prosecution in showing that Slager was a bad actor in these events. (It’s always the cover up which gets you more than the crime, particularly if someone films you covering it up.)
Slager is innocent until proven guilty and needs to have his day in court. That’s a given. But if this is the defense that he’s going to present, I think he has an uphill battle in front of him. I also find myself wondering if his attorney gave a thumbs up to this jailhouse interview he did. That just seems like poor strategy, and if you were going to tip your hand in advance you’d probably be better off letting the lawyer do it.