CHARLESTON (South Carolina), Dec 1 — The murder trial of a former South Carolina policeman accused of shooting an unarmed suspect in the back ended yesterday as a jury began to decide his fate.
Prosecutors argued in a closing statement that former policeman Michael Slager needlessly shot and killed motorist Walter Scott after Scott fled a traffic stop and struggled with the officer on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina.
Countering that claim, Slager’s defense lawyers urged the jury to acquit the former policeman of murder and manslaughter charges, arguing that Scott’s disregard for authority, aberrant behavior and aggressive actions justified the police shooting.
Much of the trial focused on a single piece of evidence: a bystander’s video of the incident that captured a portion of the struggle, Scott’s attempt to flee, and Slager firing eight shots at the suspect, five of them hitting their mark.
The emergence of this video days after the shooting led to Slager being fired from his job and arrested for murder.
Coming on the heels of other incidents of unarmed black men being shot and killed in the United States, the video of a white officer shooting an unarmed, fleeing black suspect sparked outrage.
But yesterday, defence lawyer Andy Savage said his client was unfairly portrayed by prosecutors and the media as a killer cop.
“Because of the video he’s become a poster boy for all the other events that have transpired in 2014 and 2015,” Savage said.
One way to rectify this mischaracterisation, Savage argued, was to acquit Slager.
“I hope you put an end to that (mischaracterisation),” said Savage.
“I hope you tell the state of South Carolina and the media that they have to do a better job.”
On Tuesday, Slager testified on his own behalf, claiming that when he attempted to handcuff Scott after a foot chase, the suspect grabbed his Taser and charged toward him.
Fearing for his life and bewildered at why Scott was acting so aggressively following a traffic stop for a broken tail light, Slager said he shot the suspect dead.
Yesterday, his defence lawyer Savage reinforced that testimony, telling the jury that Scott’s continual refusal to comply with Slager’s orders led to the suspect’s death.
Slager yelled repeatedly fro Scott to stop and lay on the ground.
When Scott didn’t comply, Slager tried to subdue the suspect with a Taser.
“If you’re warned with a Taser isn’t it about time to say, “Hands up, I give up?” asked Savage.”It’s crazy. Who does that? Who attacks a policeman over a brake light?”
Prosecutors cast doubt on Slager’s version of events, accusing the policeman of lying to investigators and manipulation of the crime scene. Video evidence shows Slager picking up his Taser from the ground after shooting Scott, dropping it beside the dead man’s body, and then picking it up again.
During testimony Tuesday, Slager said he did not remember these actions and could not explain them.
Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson seized on that testimony yesterday, telling jurors that Slager’s story was not credible.
“There is no good explanation for that. There is no excuse for that,” Wilson said.
“It’s not just memory, it’s bald-faced lies.”
Wilson reminded jurors that the single eyewitness to the event disputed Slager’s account of the struggle.
Bystander Feidin Santana, who filmed the video of the shooting with his cellphone, testified Scott never charged toward Slager and only attempted to flee and escape the policeman’s grip.
“There’s no evidence (Scott) was going after (Slager),” said Wilson.
Wilson also said Slager’s lack of physical harm and lack of damage to his uniform and equipment made it difficult to believe he was in danger of losing his life during the struggle with Scott.
“That is not the sign of a violent, throwdown, life-threatening fight,” said Wilson.
Flashing an image of a police badge before the jury, Wilson said police officers have a duty to protect citizens and must be held accountable when they do wrong.
“It’s supposed to be a shield, not a sword,” Wilson said of the badge.
A jury will continue to deliberate the case today. — AFP