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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

S.C. Officer’s Story Raised Concerns From the Start

(CN) - Investigators began having concerns about former police Officer Michael Slager's account of his shooting an unarmed black man almost as soon as they arrived on the scene, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

The revelation came as the agency, the state's lead law enforcement body, released the dashboard cam video from Slager's police cruiser, showing the early moments of his ultimately fatal encounter with Walt Scott.

"Our agents and crime scene technicians arrived shortly after the incident took place," Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said in a statement. "There were inconsistencies, including what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds in Mr. Scott's back.

"We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in that encounter," Keel said.

He said the three-minute cell phone video shot by Feidin Santana, a 23-year-old Dominican immigrant, "confirmed our initial suspicions."

Slager was charged with murder in the death of Scott, whom he had pulled over because of a broken taillight. He was arrested at his attorney's office Monday afternoon. Slager claimed he grappled with Scott during the traffic stop, and shot him because he believed his life was in danger.

Santana's video contradicted that story, showing Scott running away when Slager shot him five times in the back.

Santana, who has been hailed as a hero by many in the North Charleston community, including its elected officials, said in the hours after the shooting he considered deleting the recording because he feared for his own safety.

He said it was the fear -- after he informed North Charleston police he had the video -- that led him to disseminate the recording.

"I appreciate that Feiden Santana was worried about his safety and whether he could trust the police after what he saw and captured on his cell phone," Keel said. "I'm grateful that he decided not to erase the video. We are eager to discuss the incident with him."

The dashboard cam recording made public Thursday evening adds some context to the video Santana shot, but does little to reveal why what a routine traffic stop went so wrong.

It begins with Slager following the green Mercedes-Benz Scott was driving into an AutoZone parking lot, the cars coming to a stop, and the officer and Scott engaging in conversation.

Slager asks Scott for his license and registration, and Scott, compliant throughout their exchange, provides his license, then says he doesn't have the registration because he is buying the car, whose owner loaned it to him until the title changed hands.

Slager then walks back to the cruiser. A moment later, Scott opens the driver's side door of his car, and appears to be getting out to say something to the officer. Slager tells him to get back in the car. Scott does.

A moment after that, the driver's side door of the Mercedes opens again, and Scott makes a run for it, heading in the direction of the vacant lot where he was killed.

After Scott disappears from the left side of the frame, Slager can be heard running after him, then a muffled ruffling sound, and the officer can be heard saying "Taser, Taser, Taser."

"While what we have seen and learned may provide some answers, it raises more questions and issues to investigate," Keel said.

"As the investigating agency, each citizen must keep in mind that even though an arrest has been made, our work is not over. We strive for transparency and are confident the facts will come to light. This is still a prospective law enforcement action. The premature release of specific details has the potential to harm the investigation and prosecution of this terrible tragedy. Our pursuit of justice for all involved requires our unwavering commitment and dedication."

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