Attorneys for Michael Slager laid out a compelling narrative in court Friday, portraying their client as an officer left on his own to patrol one of North Charleston’s most dangerous neighborhoods before being misled by investigators looking into the events surrounding the death of Walter Scott.
Several of Slager’s former fellow officers along with North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers testified Friday, sharing their versions of what happened on April 4, 2015 — the day Slager fatally shot Scott following a traffic stop for a broken third brake light. Police rushed to the scene off of Craig Street where Slager had chased Scott. Once there, officers and investigators were tasked with securing the area and determining how a traffic stop had escalated into an officer-involved shooting. On that day, Slager is said to have shared his own account of what transpired. After chasing Scott into an empty trailer park, Slager fired his Taser at Scott, which proved to be ineffective.
Reloading his Taser, Slager fired again, this time dropping Scott to the ground. From this point, Slager says a struggle ensued. The officer pressed his Taser into Scott’s side in another effort to subdue the suspect, but Scott was allegedly able to wrestle the Taser away. The former officer whose trial begins Oct. 31 claims that as the two men returned to their feet, Scott pointed the Taser at him. Slager then says he then stepped aside, pulled his pistol, and opened fire as Scott turned away.
Attorney Andy Savage told the court Friday that there is new evidence consistent with Slager being tased following testing and comparisons with marks left on the former officers shirt he was wearing during the struggle.
Savage claimed that had Slager had sufficient back-up that day, the outcome of that traffic stop would have been much different. Questioning Driggers — who had known Slager during his time as a chaplain prior to becoming chief of police — Savage discussed the whereabouts of the other officers who were scheduled to be patrolling the central area of North Charleston along with Slager that day. Savage argues that the officers who would have been able to respond as back-up in a timely fashion were dispatched to serve warrants, retrieve items reported lost, or simply not on duty when Slager called for assistance. According to Savage, Driggers would implement minimal manpower standards for the North Charleston police the following year, but it was a failure on the part of the department on the morning that Scott was shot that caused Slager to use deadly force.
Standing in opposition of Slager’s account of the shooting, prosecutors say that the eyewitness video demonstrates a very different chain of events — one that shows Scott running away from Slager as the officer opened fire. In the days following Scott’s shooting, agents with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division scheduled a meeting with Slager and his attorney at the time to discuss what had transpired. On the eve of that meeting, agents became aware of the video, but chose to not immediately share the evidence with Slager and his attorney. Investigators with the case said they wanted to hear Slager’s account of the shooting before mentioning the existence of the video, fearing that Slager would become uncooperative or attempt to change his story. The former officer now faces felony charges for misleading investigators.
Just days after Scott was killed, SLED agents sat down with Slager and his attorney to discuss the events that led to Scott’s death. After an initial interview, investigators showed the video to Slager and his former attorney. They reviewed the evidence multiple times before leaving the room. While SLED agents awaited their return, they received the call to arrest Slager for murder. Savage argues that investigators willfully lied to Slager and his former attorney in what he described as an intentional, pre-planned deception.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman decided that this evasiveness on the part of investigators was not in violation of Slager’s constitutional rights, saying he can think of no requirement for police to disclose incriminating evidence to someone under investigation. The eyewitness video will remain a key piece of evidence during Slager’s state trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Oct. 31 in downtown Charleston.
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