Absent Lesser Charges Than Murder, Officer Michael Slager Will Go Free

The video of South Carolina police officer Michael Slager taking steady aim and repeatedly shooting the fleeing Walter Scott in the back is rather shocking and disturbing. It shows the horrible consequence of Slager completely following through on his decision to resort to deadly force when, after a foot chase and fierce physical fight, Scott looked to be turning the officer’s own taser against him.

Some who have analyzed the incident and video closely know that the details are somewhat different than the authorities and media would have people know.

The moment of decision looks to have happened so fast.  Lightning fast.  With taser wires visibly somehow attached to both men, at the moment of struggle over the taser when Slager is justified in going to his gun, the taser flies from between them, landing behind the officer as Scott suddenly whirls and runs away from the officer.  But Slager’s resolute drawing and repeatedly firing into Scott’s back after that point is uninterrupted.

A clear-cut case of murder, according to many.

However, even in failing to halt his deadly volley of shots when the situation immediately changed (arguably from one of justified deadly force to something else), Slager is not guilty of murder, and an honest jury will not convict him of it.

Why do I say this?  Arguments have raged in online forums non-stop, with speculation about all kinds of contingencies, about the technical capacities of tasers, and especially about Slager’s state of mind (the heart of the matter, really) at the moment he fired each individual shot.

The best assessment of what really happened, in my opinion, is this post at FreeRepublic.com.

“It has been discussed in scientific papers that the human mind under duress is generally unable to stop certain actions quickly once they have commenced.

This has been applied to the law enforcement setting where a police officer, after being in physical combat, is justified in using deadly force but then the circumstances change in front of him. An officer may neurologically be unable to stop firing until either the suspect is down or several seconds elapse.”

What is seen in the video is, at most, voluntary manslaughter.  I have argued this from the beginning, and many indignant, irrational readers act as if I’m declaring Slager entirely innocent of anything.  Such people act as if manslaughter isn’t even a crime, often deemed a very serious one carrying heavy punishment — sometimes equal to sentences for murder.

There was a prolonged foot chase and a physical fight over a distance of several hundred yards, with both men on the ground at one point, Scott on top of Slager (that image is glimpsed in an early frame of shaky video, just prior to the two men coming into view on their feet).

It can be legitimately argued that Slager had reason to fear for his own life at the moment Scott appeared to be gaining control of the taser.  That’s because of the threat — plausibly existing in Slager’s mind (whether seen after the fact as well-founded or not), given the lightning-fast chaos and intensity of the situation — that Scott could use it to incapacitate him, take his pistol, and do whatever to him.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Connor says that juries must try police-involved cases from the perspective of an “objectively reasonable officer” on the scene at the time, not merely that of a reasonable non-police person later on, and they must carefully consider the conditions that police operate under:

“The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. The test of reasonableness is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application.”

It’s doubtful Slager ever claimed Scott actually succeeded in tasing him, or in lodging prongs into his outer clothing (despite some saying taser prongs appear to be attached to Slager’s chest and leg), but the necessary factors for justifying use of deadly force against Scott were arguably present at the moment the two standing men come into the video frame — except that Scott suddenly whirls and takes off.

Some argue that Slager may have believed Scott still had the taser.  Some argue that Tennessee v. Garner applies in Slager’s favor, while others say it applies against him. 

The state has their calculated and political reasons for “overcharging” by going for murder, but if they really want the accused to be sentenced to prison, they’d better give jurors the chance to go for manslaughter and/or even lesser charges — otherwise Slager walks, and all hell breaks loose.

Sure, hell will still break loose if the verdict is less than murder, but the riots and mayhem won’t be anywhere near as bad as if the state goes withonly the excessive charge of murder, and Slager beats the rap entirely.

In a public statement, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the indictment against Slager will be presented to the Charleston Grand Jury in May at the earliest.

Is there a chance that the Grand Jury doesn’t even affirm probable cause, if murder is the only charge presented to them?  Imagine the insane racial violence and entire cities destroyed if that were to happen!  Given that grand jurors voting for a “true bill” don’t have to be unanimous (simple majority instead), and that a no-bill happens only about 1 out of every 10 times, I’d say that’s unlikely.

More analysis of the struggle over the taser, with a new, zoomed-in clip of that portion of the video, is here.

In this stabilized and audio-enhanced video of the incident, Scott can be seen on top of Slager in the early seconds:

Why have the authorities and major media distorted and hidden certain things in this case?  Simple.  Upon public release of the bystander’s cell phone video, they knew full well that massive rioting was about to explode unless they immediately threw Slager to the wolves and charged him with to the hilt, with murder, while (whether honestly or not) publicly denouncing everything about his actions and statements.

Did Slager lie about any part of the incident after it happened?  I’m not sure.  The authorities have made claims about Slager’s personal account of what happened being allegedly inconsistent, but they have not released it — so how are we to know?

What I am sure of is that there is reasonable doubt as to the charge of murder.  I am utterly certain of it.

It’s going to be a dangerous summer.

About the author: Donald Joy

Following his service in the United State Air Force, Donald Joy earned a bachelor of science in business administration from SUNY while serving in the army national guard. As a special deputy U.S. marshal, Don was on the protection detail for Attorney General John Ashcroft following the attacks of 9/11. He lives in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia with his wife and son.

View all articles by Donald Joy

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