A Million Witnesses; A Candid Account. . .

Posted by Jessica Travis in Criminal Law Blog











 A Million Witnesses; A Candid Account of the Death of Walter Scott

By Jessica Travis on Monday, September 8, 2015

What began as a routine traffic stop quickly turned into a nightmare for Walter Scott. The 50-year-old black man had recently purchased a Mercedes from a neighbor, and was on his way to the auto parts store. A police cruiser pulled up behind him, and when the blue flashing lights turned on, Walter Scott’s life changed forever.

Officer Michael T. Slager was traveling behind Walter Scott, and noticed that his brake light was not working properly. As a five-year veteran of the North Charleston Police Department, this incident was nothing new, and he flipped on his lights to initiate a stop. It is unclear what conversation took place between Officer Slager and Scott, but footage from the dash camera on Slager’s police cruiser showed that once the officer returned to his car to call in the stop, Mr. Scott got out of his car and fled.

According to Officer Slager, he chased Scott into a vacant lot where

he repeatedly yelled for Scott to stop. He said that Scott refused to listen to his commands, and even took his stun gun. When Scott tried to run away again, Officer Slager said that he was afraid that Scott would “tase” him, and fired his gun.

An eyewitness on the scene recorded video of the struggle in the vacant lot, which seemed to contradict the officer’s reports. The video showed that Officer Slager fired his Taser at Scott, hitting him once. Somehow, Scott was still able to get up, and managed to run for ten to fifteen feet before the officer shot him three times in the back, once in the buttocks and once in the ear. One of the shots pierced Scott’s heart and he died at the scene.

As a result of the incident, Officer Slager was fired from the police department and has now been indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Walter Scott. His case is still pending in the court system.

Slager has repeatedly claimed that he was forced to shoot Scott in self-defense because he feared that Mr. Scott would harm him. Since the event took place in South Carolina,

it is necessary to look to South Carolina law to examine Slager’s claim. South Carolina does not have a statute directly referencing an officer’s right to use deadly force against a fleeing suspect. Instead, the state relies on a Supreme Court decision from 1985 (Tennessee v. Gardner), which held that the police may not shoot a fleeing person unless the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger to the officer or others in the community.

This is slightly different in Florida, because the legislature clearly defines an officer’s right to use deadly force in Florida Statute § 776.05. The statute states that

a law enforcement officer may use any force that he reasonably believes necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making an arrest. Additionally, Florida law requires that the officer must be engaged in a lawful arrest in order to consider his use of force justified.

As a result, if an officer uses excessive force during an arrest, a defendant can use this as a defense to his criminal case. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly during an arrest, it is best to contact a specialist in criminal trials to better understand how what defenses you may have in your case.

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