Walter Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed Black man, was shot in the back and killed as he ran away from a white South Carolina police officer in April 2015. A bystander caught the incident on video, including now-former Officer Michael Slager, 35, planting a Taser beside Scott’s body as he lay on the ground dying — not even attempting CPR.
According to most observers, including many in law enforcement, Slager’s murder trial was to be an open-and-shut case. But thanks to a lone juror who said he “cannot in good conscience” convict the ex-cop, a South Carolina judge on Monday was forced to declare a mistrial in the case.
The juror, in a jury composed of six white men, five white women and one Black man, was the sole holdout after two days of deliberation on Friday, writing in a note to the judge, “I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict. At the same time, my heart does not want to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother and father is innocent. But with the choices, I cannot and will not change my mind.”
Judge Clifton Newman last week granted a request from the prosecution to let jurors consider a lesser charge of manslaughter in addition to murder. The penalty for murder is 30 years to life, while manslaughter is punishable by two to 30 years in prison.
“Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to come to a unanimous verdict,” jurors said in a note on Monday, their fourth day of deliberations after four weeks of testimony in a Charleston courtroom.
Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson, who left the courtroom with tears in her eyes, later said in a statement her office would retry Slager. “We will try Michael Slager again. We hope the federal and state courts will coordinate efforts regarding any future trial dates, but we stand ready whenever the court calls.”
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager gestures as he testifies in his murder trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2016. REUTERS
Scott family lawyer Justin Bamberg told reporters, “Justice will be had. I don’t think there’s a soul in the world who thinks that what Michael Slager did is okay.”
Slager pulled Scott over for a broken brake light. During the trial, he testified that Scott had grabbed his Taser out of his hands and then charged toward him, making him fear for his life.
“At that point I pulled my firearm and pulled the trigger,” Slager said. “I fired until the threat was stopped as I was trained to do.”
Dashcam footage shows Scott jumping out his car after Slager stopped him, with Slager then pursuing him on foot.
The sole eyewitness, Feidin Santana, the bystander who shot the cell phone video, testified that Scott was never the aggressor and only sought to escape Slager.
Prosecutors said Scott fled because he was behind on child support payments and feared arrest.
The cell phone video shows Slager shooting Scott when he was already quite a distance away from him — 18 feet according to reports. Slager fired eight rounds, with three bullets striking Scott in the upper back, one in the lower back and one hitting his ear, according to the autopsy.
Following the shooting as Scott lay on the ground, the video shows Slager walk up to his body and cuff him, then jog back to retrieve his Taser from the ground and return to Scott’s body to drop it beside him.
Prosecutors accused Slager of altering the crime scene by moving the Taser closer to the handcuffed body so he could claim Scott had taken it.
Within hours of the video’s release, Slager was fired, arrested and charged with murder.
At a news conference after the mistrial was announced, Judy Scott, Walter’s mother, said in the end justice will prevail “because Jesus is on the inside. And I know that justice will be served, because the God that I serve, he’s able. He told me to wait on the Lord and be of good courage, and God, he is strengthening my heart. God is my strength, and I know without a doubt that he is a just God and injustice will not prevail.”
Scott family attorney L. Chris Stewart added that Slager “dodged it by a hair, and he’s not dodging it again. The fight isn’t over. That was round one. [Slager] delayed justice, he did not escape it.”
A civil suit brought by Scott’s family against the City of North Charleston was previously settled for $6.5 million. Slager faces an additional federal civil trial by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating Scott’s civil rights.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.