Charleston County Sheriff's Office

S. Carolina officer charged with murder after shooting black man in back

FBI and Justice Department launch civil rights probe into death of unarmed suspect, captured on video

A white South Carolina police officer has been charged with murder over the shooting death of a black man who appeared to be running away from him, local authorities said Tuesday.

In the incident, which was recorded by a bystander, North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager is seen firing eight shots at 50-year-old Walter Scott. 

A decision to prosecute was made after state investigators viewed the video, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told a news conference.

“When you're wrong, you're wrong,” Summey told reporters. “If you make a bad decision, I don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division also announced a joint investigation into the incident Tuesday.

Scott's family said they were thankful for a video that led to the murder charge.

Anthony Scott, the dead man's brother, said that because of the clip, “we have received the truth” and “through the process, justice has been served.” The family plans to file a lawsuit against the police department.

The New York Times published the video online. The clip begins with Scott running away from the officer.

It is believed that the incident began after Scott was pulled over for a broken taillight.

The unidentified bystander’s video takes place after the suspect was hit by a stun gun.

Scott is then seen running away as the officer fires eight shots, causing Scott to fall down near a tree, where he is ordered to put his hands behind his back to be cuffed.

Shortly thereafter, according to the New York Times, which cited police reports, Slager said: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.”

Later in the video, as another officer arrives at the scene, Slager appears to toss an object near Scott’s body. It’s unclear if the object was a stun gun. 

The Charleston Post and Courier newspaper reported that Slager had been booked into Charleston County’s jail. The paper also reported that the attorney who earlier in the week released a statement on behalf of the officer was no longer representing Slager.

In that earlier statement, the lawyer said the officer had felt threatened and that Scott had tried to grab the stun gun.

The shooting occurred amid heightened scrutiny on police officer shootings, particularly those that involve white officers and unarmed black suspects. A grand jury declined to indict Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown last August, leading to nationwide protests.

In a separate case in South Carolina, a white police officer who shot a 68-year-old black man to death last year in his driveway was charged Tuesday with a felony: discharging a gun into an occupied vehicle. A prosecutor previously tried to indict North Augusta officer Justin Craven on a manslaughter charge in the February 2014 death of Ernest Satterwhite. But a grand jury instead chose misconduct in office, which is a far lesser charge.

Craven chased Satterwhite for 9 miles beyond city limits to the man's driveway in Edgefield County. After Satterwhite parked, the officer repeatedly fired through the driver-side door, prosecutors said. The 25-year-old officer faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the gun charge.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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