Walter Lamer Scott was fatally shot in the back by a North Charleston Police Officer he ran away from the officer and did not appear to be a threat. The officer, Michael Slager, has been charged with murder. Scott was a father of four. (Facebook)
Michael Slager’s defense team “argued extensively” and posed “substantial evidence” in fighting for bail, a judge wrote Monday.
For complete coverage of the Walter Scott shooting, go to postandcourier.com/Walter-Scott.
But prosecutors’ evidence against the former North Charleston police officer in Walter Scott’s shooting death was “persuasive,” Circuit Judge Clifton Newman wrote in denying Slager’s bid to be freed while awaiting trial on a murder charge.
For a copy of the judge’s bail order, find this story at postandcourier.com.
“After careful consideration of all of the evidence presented and the nature and circumstances of the offense,” Newman said in a written order, “the court finds that release of Defendant would constitute an unreasonable danger to the community.”
A video showed Slager shooting Scott in the back as the 50-year-old man ran away April 4. The officer was fired and arrested after the footage surfaced three days later, and he has been jailed since then.
After opposing attorneys posed their evidence to the judge during a bond hearing last week, Scott’s family tearfully pleaded with Newman to keep Slager behind bars. Scott’s brother, Anthony, said the decision Monday “isn’t cause for celebration.”
“There are no winners or losers when one man has lost his life at the hands of another,” he said in a statement. “We trust in God and our prayer is that something like this never happens again to any family, anywhere.”
Slager had mentioned last week his wish to spend time with his family, including his newborn son, and he promised to abide by conditions of release, such as house arrest.
His critics were vocal.
“I think it’s a good day in South Carolina,” James Johnson, who leads National Action Network chapters in South Carolina, said Monday. “Slager talks about wanting to see his son, but Mrs. Scott can’t see her son anymore.”
The judge’s order came amid activists’ calls for protests if Slager were released, though experts said public sentiment cannot be considered in making such a ruling. Newman instead noted Slager’s main interview with investigators, who documented it in reports that 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson used in arguing against bail. Those documents were obtained Monday.
During that questioning, Slager offered an account in which he said Scott was turning away from him when he fired. After his attorney at the time interrupted the interview, saying Slager was “getting confused,” the officer revised his narrative slightly, saying Scott kept coming at him when he “just started shooting.”
Wilson said she had no further comment beyond her courtroom presentation last week that accused Slager of moving evidence and lying to support his story of self-defense.
Slager’s latest defense attorney, Andy Savage, released a statement Monday night: “We share Michael’s disappointment in today’s Court decision but remain firmly convinced that following a review of all the evidence, a jury of Michael’s peers will find that he was free of any criminal intent in his actions on April 4, 2015.”
‘I’m afraid now’
Slager’s interview with the State Law Enforcement Division started around 11 a.m. on the Tuesday after the shooting.
He told the agents about how Scott was acting nervous during a traffic stop. Scott kept reaching into his pockets and looking around.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman resides over the hearing for Michael Slager, the former North Charleston policeman charged with the murder of Walter Scott in Charleston County Court. Leroy Burnell/Staff 9/11/2015
Enlarge Circuit Judge Clifton Newman resides over the hearing for Michael Slager, the former North Charleston policeman charged with the murder of Walter Scott in Charleston County Court. Leroy Burnell/Staff 9/11/2015
The officer had returned to his cruiser and was getting ready to check Scott’s driver’s license when Scott ran. As he gave chase, he wondered if Scott’s car was stolen.
With Slager coming up from behind, Scott waved his arms, hoping to knock away any Taser prongs fired at him. Slager waited until Scott stopped flailing before shooting his stun gun from about 15 feet away, he said. Slager reloaded with another Taser cartridge and fired a second time from at least 8 feet.
Scott fell. He dropped a cellphone.
“Stop,” someone said through the phone, Slager recalled hearing. “Do what the officer says.”
Scott yelled into it, “I’m running down Remount, Remount Road.”
The officer got on top of Scott, who pushed back.
“I’m not a real strong guy,” Slager told the SLED agents. Slager never said that Scott was on top of him, pummeling the officer, as his defense attorney suggested at last week’s bond hearing.
They continued to struggle. Scott flipped over to face Slager. But Slager managed to eject the last cartridge from his Taser and jab the device into Scott’s left ribcage.
Slager still heard a voice coming from Scott’s phone, he said.
Scott first grabbed the barrel of Slager’s Taser with his left hand, then his right and jerked it away, the officer said.
Slager said Scott got up and rotated his body left toward Slager, the Taser pointed at him.
“I’m afraid now,” Slager said. “Is he going to tase me and take my weapon? Am I going home tonight to my pregnant wife? Is he going to take my weapon and shoot me?”
But at some point, Scott turned, the officer said.
“Scott was turning in the opposite direction that Slager was moving as he was firing,” the investigator wrote of Slager’s account.
After Slager acted out the shooting, his attorney at the time, David Aylor, ushered him outside the room at the lawyer’s North Charleston office.
Slager later said that Scott was coming at him when he fired but that he didn’t know what position Scott was in while he was firing.
“When I shuffled to the left,” he said, according to the agents’ report, “I just started firing.”
Community at ease
The gunfire lasted 2 or 3 seconds, Slager estimated, until Scott stumbled and fell.
The bystander’s video of the shooting showed Slager running to pick up his Taser, which had bounced on the ground behind him during the struggle. But Slager told the investigators that Scott must have dropped it somewhere between the spot he opened fire and where Scott’s body ended up.
He grabbed the Taser and put it into his holster, he said, because he didn’t know if the person on the other end of Scott’s phone call was coming to the scene. It was later revealed that Scott was speaking with his mother. Slager didn’t want a weapon lying around, he said.
Apparently unaware of the video, the agents never challenged Slager’s account. The footage showed him dropping the Taser near Scott’s body before picking it up again.
The 21/2-hour interview ended at 1:30 p.m. But Slager found himself back at his attorney’s office at 4 p.m.
By then, word of the video reached the public, and the agents wanted to address it. They played the video. It showed Scott pulling away before he turned and ran. Slager shot him in the back.
Slager said nothing about the video and took out his cellphone. He started typing. Prosecutors now want his text messages.
He and his attorney again walked out of the room. Aylor returned later, saying he was “bowing out” of representing Slager. The officer had just learned that he had been fired from his job.
He had planned to write a statement later in the day, but he never got a chance. The agents put him in handcuffs at 5:15 p.m.
Within an hour, he would be in jail and city officials would announce his arrest to the world. He likely will stay behind bars until his trial sometime next year.
To North Charleston activist Thomas Dixon, his bid for bail failed because of the evidence. The judge’s decision Monday also eased community anxiety over the demonstrations that Slager’s release could have prompted, Dixon said.
“I would respect him more if he just said, ‘Man, I messed up. I never should have shot him like that,’ ” Dixon said. “Then there might be that forgiveness the community shows.”
Melissa Boughton contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.