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Jury selection in a local Charleston, South Carolina, courthouse entered its second day Tuesday in the murder trial of a 34-year-old fired North Charleston police officer who was secretly captured on video shooting a fleeing suspect multiple times in the back. The defense is trying to keep jurors from seeing the video, calling it “factually deficient.”
Pool photo via Getty Images
Michael Slager, a white North Charleston officer, is accused of killing Walter Scott, 50, a black man who was pulled over in April 2015 for a routine traffic stop. Scott had a warrant for his arrest, fled the Mercedes-Benz he was driving, was chased into a field, and was then shot and killed as a passerby secretly captured the shooting on video.
For the most part, those are the general undisputed facts in a case that likely would have been swept under the rug without video evidence. Before the video surfaced, the police defended the officer’s actions. As reported by the Post and Courier, the police said that “…a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him. That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him…”
The defendant’s attorney is sticking with that story. The defense is trying to have the video excluded, saying in a Tuesday court motion that it is “highly prejudicial, inflammatory, and factually deficient.”
“The video of the shooting taken on April 4, 2015 is unreliable, technically inadequate, limited in scope, and extremely unrepresentative of the events at issue,” according to the motion.
The South Carolina man who used his phone to record a video of Slager fatally shooting Scott said that another officer who arrived on the scene ordered him to stop recording. The film went viral days later, and the police agency changed its public story.
In short, Slager’s defense is that the video doesn’t capture the whole story and that he was acting in self-defense. If the judge allows the video, the defense is asking that it not be shown in slow motion because “recent peer reviewed social scientific studies have shown that slow motion videos are inherently prejudicial.”
Slager faces 30 years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors had opted not to seek the death penalty for a killing that has been viewed online millions of times. They said the nature of the charges against Slager did not make him eligible.
Moments after the shooting, Slager went on the police radio and said, “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.” The video, however, shows what looks like Slager placing a Taser next to the dead man’s body.
What’s more, sound inside the police vehicle captured by dashcam records Slager phoning his wife.
“Hey. Hey, everything’s OK. OK? I just shot somebody,” Slager said, according to the recording.
“He grabbed my Taser, yeah. Yeah,” he said, according to the recording. “He was running from me… I’m fine.”
In the wake of the video surfacing, the police agency had purchased body cams for the department’s officers.
Jury selection is expected to conclude Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday.
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