Walter Scott’s family plans burial as questions swirl in his death
Walter Scott’s family prepared Friday to bury him, nearly a week after he was shot in the back by North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager.
Visitation was scheduled for Friday night, with burial planned for Saturday.
Meanwhile community organizers sought an emergency meeting with city officials to discuss forming a citizen review board to investigate complaints of police misconduct.
“This is not a moment, this is a movement, for social justice, and an organized cry to the nation’s conscience,” the group, #BlackLivesMatter Charleston, said in a statement.
Slager is charged with murder in Scott’s April 4 death. Video shot by a witness shows the officer shooting Scott in the back as he runs away. Slager had told investigators he feared for his safety after tussling over his stun gun.
He’s been fired from his job with the police department, and faces life in prison if convicted.
On Thursday, dash cam video and a new witness emerged from the day Scott died.
The dash cam footage shows Officer Michael Slager talking calmly to Scott during a traffic stop for a brake light that was out. Scott apparently says he has no insurance on the vehicle, and Slager returns to his car to do paperwork.
Moments later, Scott gets out of his car and bolts. A foot chase ensues. Scott never reappears on the dash cam video, but a witness later takes video of the officer shooting Scott several times in the back as he is running away.
“Nothing in this video demonstrates that the officer’s life or the life of another was threatened,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said. “The question here is whether the use of force was excessive.”
On Thursday, a new witness emerged in the case. Gwen Nichols told CNN’s Brian Todd that she saw a scuffle between Scott and Slager at the entrance to a vacant lot.
“It was like a tussle type of thing, like, you know, like, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘What did I do?’ type of thing,” Nichols said. “I didn’t hear Mr. Slager saying: ‘Stop!'”
Scott was the subject of a bench warrant over $18,104.43 in unpaid child support at the time of the stop, according to court records. That may be why he ran, an attorney for the family said.
Criminal defense attorney Paul Callan said he believes Slager’s defense will play up the reported scuffle in arguing that this is not a murder case.
“Defense attorneys will say this was a heat of passion shooting — (that) this was something that he did suddenly after some kind of an altercation, a physical altercation with a suspect,” Callan said. “And that would constitute manslaughter under law, as opposed to murder, and it makes a huge difference in sentencing.”
In South Carolina, a murder conviction requires a measure of premeditation.
One key part of the puzzle remained missing Friday: the identity of a passenger in the car with Scott when he was pulled over. The man might be able to shed light on what Scott was doing or thinking before he jumped out of the car and ran.
The passenger’s name wasn’t in a police report obtained by CNN. But an officer who responded to the scene said in the report that the passenger was detained and placed in the back seat of a police car.
Scott family attorney Chris Stewart told CNN the man with Scott was a co-worker and friend. But he did not identify the friend by name.
The investigation has been turned over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED.
In a statement released Thursday, SLED said its investigators found troubling inconsistencies from the very start.
“We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in that encounter,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement. “The cell phone video shot by a bystander confirmed our initial suspicions.”
Cell phone videographer: ‘Mr. Scott never tried to fight’
Santana told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he was walking to work when he saw Slager on top of Scott, who was on the ground. He said he could hear the sound of a Taser in use.
Santana said he didn’t see Scott go after the Taser, as Slager initially claimed. He said he believes Scott was trying to get away.
“Mr. Scott never tried to fight,” Santana said.
Neither the struggle nor the use of a Taser was captured on video, because Santana started recording shortly after that.
His video shows Scott running away from Slager before the officer aims his gun. Slager fires eight shots toward Scott, striking him five times.
While the initial traffic stop may have seemed to be perfectly normal and professional, and the foot-chase a reasonable choice, an analyst saw little justification for that last act.
“I’m not familiar with South Carolina police training, but I guarantee you that they do not teach to shoot a fleeing unarmed man in the back,” said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit.
There are several claims in the initial police reports that are not supported in Santana’s video. And there may be more to the investigation than just whether Scott’s killing was justified, CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
“If it’s determined that multiple officers attempted to cover for the shooting officer, and it’s shown that those reports were false, this will be a devastating blow for law enforcement everywhere,” he said.
By Holly Yan, CNN
CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Jason Carroll and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
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