Walter Scott shooting: Gap remains between dashcam, bystander videos
Scott might have run away because he was behind on child support payments, family says
Dashboard video shows a police officer making a routine traffic stop. Cellphone video shows the officer shooting the fleeing motorist in the back. What remains a mystery is what happened during the minutes in between that led the polite officer to become a killer.
The dashcam footage released by South Carolina state police on Thursday showed North Charleston Officer Michael Thomas Slager pulling over black motorist Walter Scott for a broken brake light last weekend. Slager, who is white, has been charged with murder in Scott's death.
"It is possible for something to happen in that gap to significantly raise the officer's perception of risk.— Seth Stoughton, criminal law professor
Saturday's traffic stop opens like so many others as Scott was stopped in a used Mercedes-Benz he had purchased days earlier, footage from the patrol car showed. At the outset, it's a strikingly benign encounter: The officer is seen walking toward the driver's window, requesting Scott's licence and registration. Slager then returns to his cruiser. On the dashcam video, Slager never touches his gun during the stop. He also makes no unreasonable demands or threats.
The video also shows Scott beginning to get out of the car, his right hand raised above his head. He then quickly gets back into the car and closes the door. After Slager goes back to his patrol car, minutes later, Scott jumps from his car and runs. Slager chases him.
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What's missing is what happens from the time the two men run out of the frame of dashboard video to the time picked up in a bystander's cellphone video a few hundred yards away. The cellphone footage starts with Scott getting to his feet and running away, then Slager firing eight shots at the man's back.
"It is possible for something to happen in that gap to significantly raise the officer's perception of risk," said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and criminal law professor at the University of South Carolina
Scott was more than $17,500 behind in child support — more than $18,000 with court fees — and had been in jail three times over the issue. He last paid child support in 2012, court records show, and a bench warrant for his arrest was issued in early 2013. His family has said that he might have run because he was behind on payments again and didn't want to go back to jail.
Police and Slager's first lawyer initially said the officer fired in self-defence during a scuffle over his department-issued Taser. Within days of Saturday's encounter, the eyewitness video surfaced and immediately changed perceptions of what had happened, leading authorities to charge Slager with murder and fire him from the police force he'd worked on for five years.
On Friday, Slager's mother, Karen Sharpe, told ABC's Good Morning America that she couldn't believe her son — who loved being an officer and had a baby on the way — would have been involved in the incident. She said she's taking one day at a time and hasn't watched the cellphone video that helped bring about Slager's arrest.
"I just have to let it be and hope God takes care of everybody involved — not only my family but the Scott family because I know they're grieving just like I'm grieving, so I want them to know that," she said.
Watch the bystander video from The Post and Courier on Vimeo (WARNING: This video contains graphic content.)