Video key in ex-officer's stiff sentence for killing Walter Scott
Meg Kinnard, Associated Press | 12/8/2017, 7:55 p.m.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The video was viewed millions of times around the world. It was somewhat blurry, recorded from a distance, but it clearly showed an unarmed black man running from a white officer, who shot him five times in the back.
On Thursday, relatives of that fleeing motorist described the pain of reliving Walter Scott's death each time the cellphone video aired. Over and over, they've watched Scott crumple to the ground, never to rise again.
They know nothing will bring back Scott, the 50-year-old father who loved football, cartoons and Saturday morning pancake breakfasts with his family. But they also know the images helped bring them solace, in the form of a 20-year federal prison sentence for the man responsible.
Would Michael Slager have received such a stiff sentence without the video?
"Of course not," Chris Stewart, an attorney for Scott's family, said Thursday. "You can't believe the initial narrative. Investigate."
The officer's first story, the one Scott's family disputed since the April 4, 2015, shooting, was Slager's claim of self-defense. The North Charleston officer said he felt afraid and threatened when Scott grabbed his stun gun and charged at him.
It's the story Slager first told state police officers when they questioned him several days after the shooting.
Then the video surfaced. The bystander who shot it on his way to work at a barber shop said he was afraid to take it to police after the officer's narrative emerged, and instead shared it with Scott's family. When they released the images publicly, people could see the shooting themselves — and see that Slager was lying, Stewart and prosecutors have said.
The video doesn't capture the fight between the two men, but it shows Slager shoot Scott from a distance, run back to retrieve his stun gun, and then drop it by the man's lifeless body. He had fired eight shots, hitting Scott five times in the back as he ran from a traffic stop.
The images set off protests across the U.S. as demonstrators said it was another egregious example of police officers mistreating African-Americans. Many seized on the video as proof of what they had argued for years: White officers too often use deadly force unnecessarily against black people.
Slager, 36, was fired after the video became public, and is one of only a few police officers to go to prison for an on-duty shooting. His sentence is by far the stiffest since shootings of unarmed black men came under scrutiny in recent years.
Before sentencing, Scott's relatives urged a judge to mete out a significant punishment. Through tears, they also told Slager they felt sorrow for him and the loss his young children would feel in his absence. In the end, U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled it second-degree murder, not manslaughter, and sentenced Slager to 20 years in prison for violating Scott's civil rights.
For the Scott family, it was the justice they had sought ever since that stranger came to them with the video.