Chuck Burton / AP

Police chief ‘sickened’ by video of officer shooting unarmed man in back

In press conference interrupted by protesters’ chants, city leaders say they can’t answer all questions

A white South Carolina police officer who claimed he killed an unarmed black man in self-defense has been fired, the city's mayor announced Wednesday, a day after the release of a video showing the officer firing eight shots at the fleeing man's back.

The mayor also announced that he has ordered body cameras to be worn by every North Charleston police officer.

On Tuesday the Charleston County Solicitor charged the officer, Michael Thomas Slager, 33, with murder after seeing cellphone footage of what appears to be Slager shooting Walter Lemar Scott Jr., 50, in the back while Scott ran from the officer after a traffic stop. An unknown bystander recorded the video.

Protests began within hours of Slager's indictment.

“I have watched the video. And I was sickened by what I saw. And I have not watched it since,” Police Chief Eddie Driggers said. He was interrupted by chants of “No justice, no peace” and by shouted questions that he and Mayor Keith Summey said they could not answer.

Earlier on Wednesday, Driggers and Summey visited Scott's family to offer their condolences and called on citizens to pray for both Scott's and Slager's families. 

Summey said that Slager's wife is eight months pregnant. Although Slager is no longer employed by the department, the mayor said that the city would extend his health insurance until the baby was born. 

“That is the humane thing for us to do,” Summey told reporters. 

He said enough body cameras for every officer are “on order,” after the state legislature doled out emergency funds. The demonstrators clapped after that announcement. “We have to train them on the operation of the camera,” he said, adding that the city was drafting guidelines for how to use them. 

Body cameras have become a hope for some community policing advocates after a series of shootings of unarmed people by officers under disputed circumstances. Advocates of the technology say they will help clarify what happens in altercations with citizens and discourage abusive behavior by officers. 

Summey said neither he nor Driggers could answer many of the questions reporters and protesters asked in the meeting, because North Charleston had turned over the evidence in the case to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, a state agency. 

“No justice, no peace,” protesters at the press conference chanted in unison as Driggers spoke. 

“I have been praying for peace. Peace for the family and peace for this community, and I will continue to,” Driggers said in response.

Outside City Hall, protesters handed out signs reading "Back turned, don't shoot," “Black lives matter” and “Stop racist police terror.” One display included a wood cutout of a man in a hooded sweatshirt with angel wings.

Protesters say North Charleston police have a habit of harassing black people for small offenses, such as the broken brake light that started the traffic stop preceding Scott's death.

Charleston County Sherriff Al Cannon, who was present at the demonstration, said his department started reviewing its policies on use of force after a white officer fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. A grand jury did not bring any charges in that case.

The FBI and the Justice Department's civil rights division are also investigating the North Charleston shooting.

The Justice Department issued a detailed report last month condemning Ferguson’s municipal government for poor police training, practices it said contributed to Brown's death. The city’s police chief and other top officials stepped down in the wake of the report.

The killing and the lack of an indictment against the officer involved sparked months of protests in Ferguson. Demonstrators there last year clashed with law enforcement, amid tear gassings, mass arrests and the looting of businesses in the city.

Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who is not related to Walter Scott, issued a statement Wednesday morning condemning Scott's shooting death. Tim Scott is the state's first black senator since 1881.

“The horrific video that came to light yesterday is deeply troubling,” Tim Scott said. “It is clear the killing of Walter Scott was unnecessary and avoidable.”

Walter Scott's parents — Judy Scott and Walter Scott Sr. — appeared on TV shows on Wednesday morning. Judy Scott told ABC's “Good Morning America” that she almost couldn't look at the video of the shooting. She said it tore her heart to pieces.

After seeing the video, Walter Scott Sr. said Slager “looked like he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.”

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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