Last Saturday, April 4th at about 9:30 a.m., 33-year-old North Charleston, S.C. police officer Michael Slager shot 50-year-old Walter Scott near the intersection of Remount and Craig Roads in North Charleston.
Take a good look at this alarming video, then read why I say the officer will not be convicted of murder, but of a lesser included charge of voluntary manslaughter instead.
Slager initially pulled Scott over for a broken taillight, but the incident escalated when Slager tried to take Scott into custody on an outstanding arrest warrant for non-payment of child support. Scott had some additional prior violent criminal history.
Without any analysis, it seems like a very damning video. In addition to the shooting itself, some accuse Slager of lying about the incident, and the video itself shows Slager appearing to move the taser, after the shooting.
I predict that Officer Slager is going down, but not for murder. He is being charged with murder(presumably second-degree), but he’ll be convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead. Why? Mitigating factors, as follows.
It will be pointed out to the jury that at the very beginning of the video, you can actually hear the taser being deployed; that ratchety clicking sound, off-camera and before anything really comes into focus. That means the taser was activated prior to the video frame at :17, where you suddenly can see Scott and Slager in close confrontation for a split-second, fighting over the taser.
In the next second, Scott turns and flees as you see the taser fall to the ground and Slager reach for his gun. Slager opens fire with eight shots as Scott runs away, then falls.
It will be explained that after Scott’s first attempt to flee, from the gas station where he’d been pulled over, he then physically resisted arrest, and that Slager was unable to subdue Scott to get him into custody. Due to the taser failing to stop Scott as he resisted, with Scott trying to wrest the taser away from Slager, assault on a police officer will be argued — therefore, Scott at this point is legitimately deemed by Slager to be violent felon.
The video supports this argument, and the defense will almost certainly argue it. Slager, now, has a somewhat legitimate argument that his own life is in jeopardy if Scott is able to get the taser away from him, possibly turning it on him, incapacitating him, and then accessing his pistol to use against him. So, Slager abandons the taser (it falls to the ground) and reaches for his pistol as a last resort. This immediately causes Scott to flee.
That’s the point at which a reasonable person would expect Slager to desist from using deadly force. However, some will try to argue that Slager had a duty to use any means up to and including deadly force to stop the escape of a violent felon who had just assaulted a police officer and tried to get a weapon (the taser) from the officer as being an imminent threat to others. I’m not saying the defense will necessarily try that shaky angle (Tennessee v. Garner), although they may plant suggestive seeds to that effect.
Slager’s defense team will emphasize the totality of the circumstances, exploit the mitigating factors, and rest in the reasonable doubt as to Slager’s culpability for the murder charge. Murder requires certain key elements (i.e., depraved mind, malice aforethought) which I do not believe can be proven here.
The jury will not fully accept all implications of the defense, yet because of reasonable doubt as to murder they will nonetheless not be able to agree to convict Slager on that charge. Slager’s action in the immediate aftermath (moving the taser, which can be seen as somewhat suspicious unless one deems it mere negligent handling of the scene/evidence) will help the jury rationalize convicting him of voluntary manslaughter, which can carry a prison term up to and equal to murder.