Walter Scott Shooting

Mistrial Before Michael Slager's Guilty Plea Epitomized Lenience for Cops Who Kill

How could jurors think that shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the back was not a crime?

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NCPD

The bystander video that led to homicide charges against former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager clearly showed that his shooting of Walter Scott, a motorist he stopped because of a defective brake light on April 4, 2015, was not justified. Yesterday Slager admitted as much in federal court, saying in his plea agreement that he "used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances." Yet five months before Slager pleaded guilty to depriving Scott of his civil rights under color of law, a state jury deadlocked on the question of whether the shooting was a crime—a mistrial that vividly illustrates the special treatment that cops enjoy when they kill people.

After Slager pulled him over, Scott got out of his car and fled, apparently because of an outstanding warrant for failure to pay child support. Slager ran after him and shot him with a Taser, which knocked him down. Scott got back up and during the ensuing scuffle, Slager later claimed, grabbed the Taser. But by the time Slager drew his pistol and fired eight rounds, the stun gun had fallen to the ground, and Scott was running away from Slager. He was about 18 feet away, his back to Slager, when the deadly fusillade cut him down. This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an act of self-defense.

Watching the video during his trial, Slager conceded that Scott was not holding the Taser and that he was not close enough to pose any sort of threat with his bare hands. But Slager said he did not realize that at the time. All he knew was that he was "scared" because he had been unable to subdue Scott, who "was a lot stronger than me."

According to Slager's testimony, he decided to use deadly force before the threat from Scott receded. "That decision was made when Mr. Scott was 27 inches away, toe to toe," he said. "At that point, I made the decision to use lethal force. He was still dangerous….I was in total fear that Mr. Scott didn't stop, continued to come towards me. I pulled my firearm, and I pulled the trigger….I fired until the threat was stopped like I'm trained to do." Slager could not explain why the video shows him picking up the Taser from the ground and dropping it next to Scott's body before retrieving it a few seconds later, which certainly looks like an aborted attempt to make the threat Slager perceived seem more credible.

The jury considered two charges against Slager: murder, which South Carolina defines as "the killing of any person with malice aforethought, either express or implied," and manslaughter, which is "the unlawful killing of another without malice, express or implied." The most charitable interpretation of Slager's account is that he overreacted in the heat of the moment, perceiving a threat that did not exist. South Carolina law allows someone to use deadly force when he faces an "imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury" or when he believes that to be the case, but only if "a reasonably prudent person of ordinary firmness and courage would have had the same belief."

It seems safe to say that a reasonably prudent person of ordinary firmness and courage would not think he was acting in self-defense by shooting a fleeing man in the back from a distance of six yards. That means Slager was guilty, at the very least, of manslaughter, which is punishable by two to 30 years in prison. But interviews with jurors after the trial indicate that they resisted the manslaughter charge for legally specious reasons.

The jury foreman, Dorsey Montgomery, told NBC News he was initially inclined to convict Slager of murder but decided after reviewing the evidence that manslaughter was the more appropriate charge. One of the 12 jurors was firmly opposed to both charges, Montgomery said, while five others were undecided. "Part of the problem," another, unnamed juror told the Charleston Post and Courier, "was the fact that he may not be completely innocent, but the charges we were given were possibly a little too harsh."

The latter juror thought the undecided members of the panel (who evidently included him) would have been more inclined to convict Slager if given the option of involuntary manslaughter. But that charge clearly did not apply in this case, since involuntary manslaughter, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison with no minimum, involves killing someone through criminal negligence, meaning the defendant acted with "reckless disregard of the safety of others." It is obvious, as even Slager admitted during his trial, that he deliberately shot Scott. The question was whether he was justified in doing so and, if not, whether he acted out of malice.

It seems clear that half of the jurors bent over backward to avoid convicting Slager of manslaughter, to the point that they ignored the law. It also seems clear that they never would have cut so much slack for an ordinary defendant, one who was not wearing a uniform and badge when he commited his crime:

In the end, the juror said his fellow panel members had a "very hard time" faulting the policeman for a decision he made as a result of his job. They once sent a note to the judge asking whether the self-defense requirements are any different for law officers than for citizens.

"Society as a whole has not made it easy to be a policeman," the juror said. "The cop on the street is always being second-guessed, always going to have 5 million eyes on him. Everybody is going to Monday morning quarterback it. But he's out there, and he's got to make a decision within a second or two."

The jurors who resisted a guilty verdict literally wanted to know whether police officers are bound by the same law as the rest of us. They thought that maybe cops, in light of the risks and criticism they face, should get away with killing people from time to time even when they don't reasonably believe the use of deadly force is necessary. This alarming double standard goes a long way toward explaining why it's so difficult to hold cops accountable when they victimize the citizens they are supposed to protect.

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  1. Welcome to the dark side of jury nullification.

    1. It’s one of those irregular verbs: I nullified; you ignored the law; they let a cop get away with murder.

    2. No, welcome to coercive monopolistic government, where it sets the rules and decides who enforces them and who interprets them.

      This absolutely would not happen if there were no government police; if victims had to hire their own investigators and enforcers.

      What no one has pointed out that I have seen is that this guy was just wanted for child support. Even chasing him down seems overkill. You’ve got his car; if he wants it back, you’ve got him. If he doesn’t want it back, you’ve still got an address and can find an employer or can cut off his welfare.

      If the cop didn’t yet know about the warrant, then it’s just a traffic ticket, and again, you’ve got his car which is almost certainly worth more than the ticket.

      There was no need to chase him down. Cop should have just kept writing the ticket and called for a tow truck. Deal with the dude later when he comes back for his car, or go to his house or job with less fuss and muss.

      1. This absolutely would not happen if there were no government police; if victims had to hire their own investigators and enforcers.

        I come home to discover my neighbor carrying my TV out the front door. Angered by the theft, I call my private enforcement squad who, upon arriving next door, encounter a squad of my neighbors enforcers who say that the TV was most definitely always my neighbors.

        And then… ?

        1. Angered by the theft, I call my private enforcement

          There’s your problem. In your blind anger, instead of calling your private investigative squad, you called your private enforcement squad. Happens all the time.

          1. No, No, No.

            FORM A BRUTE SQUAD!

        2. Then it goes to trial and the loser’s costs mount too damned high to make the lie worthwhile.

          Anything can be turned into nonsense with enough stupidity. Come up with a real scenario next time.

          1. Maybe come up with a real scenario where people entrust private security for violent crimes.

          2. And you have shown that “anything can be turned into nonsense with enough stupidity” by coming up with this absolutely ludicrous idea of private investigators and enforcers.

            1. Authority which uses deadly force instead of reason is a “ludicrous idea”. It is not accepted behavior in the private sector. But we were all programed from kindergarten that the public sector is exempt from that moral code. The elected and their henchmen are to be worshiped and obeyed, on pain of death.

              That is the unidentified and therefore unchallenged assumption. Indoctrination from childhood is very difficult to overcome. And most are victims.

              Offering a solution to a specific symptom is useless. The underlying programing must be addressed.

        3. The two squads shoot each other until only one is left standing, as it is the only rational course of action.

        4. You deserve a better answer than my quick reply, so now I have time.

          First off, most practical, is that stolen property is always worth much less to the thief than the owner, and by extension to the owner or his insurance company who will have to replace it.

          Second, any decent legal system will make losers pay all restitution, including investigation, enforcement, lawyers, court, lost wages, damages, etc. I would throw in the proviso that anyone owing restitution cannot file complaints for any lesser amount, providing a real incentive to keep legal costs low and to pay up once convicted; otherwise every joe and his brother could steal them blind, legally, especially the victims, and recovery costs are part of restitution.

          I also think most people follow social norms, even if reluctantly. Notice how cops seldom have to carry people into cop cras ir into court rooms. Part of that is fear of a beating, but a lot of it is just being polite, for want of a better word. I doubt very few thieves would go full retard when confronted by hired police with clear evidence, like video or a neighbor’s testimony or possession of serialized property.

          1. Authority which uses deadly force instead of reason is a “ludicrous idea”. It is not accepted behavior in the private sector. But we were all programed from kindergarten that the public sector is exempt from that moral code. The elected and their henchmen are to be worshiped and obeyed, on pain of death.

            That is the unidentified and therefore unchallenged assumption. Indoctrination from childhood is very difficult to overcome. And most are victims.

            Offering a solution to a specific symptom is useless. The underlying programing must be addressed.

        5. In Texas, you shoot your neighbor because he is in the process of burglarizing your house. No need to talk to the neighbors.

      2. “…this guy was just wanted for child support.”

        Well, reasonable logic would conclude that if a man would not pay his child support then he is likely engaged in who knows what else. Which means the cop had not only justification but a duty to stop this man ASAP so that he could undergo some extreme vetting. We all know that if he was running then he likely had child porn or a kidnap victim in the trunk. Who runs for a non-payment of child support except people that want to avoid jail, jail induced dehydration and/or to keep their job.

        I blame the education system for the man’s death because they did not adequately inculcate him with the comply or die principle. Another public school failure.

        1. Most people share your worship of authority. This is proof that the primary goal of public school, instilling unthinking obedience to authority, has been achieved.

          When this indoctrination is replaced by objective, cognitive evaluation of the “comply of die principle”, the use of initiation of violence will be as unacceptable in the public sector as it is in the private. Then the world can truly claim to be civilized/humane because brute force will be replaced by reason and voluntary interactions.

    3. “How could jurors think that shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the back was not a crime?”

      So then those same jurors would be ok with the family seeking justice by hiring someone to assassinate the cop in question?

      1. To answer your question: This is South Carolina; racism. You or I might consider jury nullification if we don’t agree with a law. Others might use it for entirely different reasons.

        1. Here we go with the “it’s the South” argument. I currently live in SC, and have lived in Philly, Boston, DC, and Chicago and can say the most integrated and tolerant of all those was SC.

      2. “How could jurors think…”? Obviously they didn’t use thought, except to rationalize their faith in force as a primary principle modus operandi of authorities. With this principle, the authorities have the rights, the citizen none. The authority’s life is always the main concern. The authority’s judgement is supreme, unimpeachable.

        This is the current belief by most of the public. It is programed from childhood by govt. school, to benefit a ruling elite, not the public. This explains how the govt. can tax/torture/murder and not lose support.

        When this belief is replaced with reason as a primary modus operandi, violence will no longer be institutionalized.

  2. So now that we know there’s an informal “as a result of his job” standard, can we repeal 90% of laws to give these cowards fewer reasons to perform their job on us?

  3. That’s it, no more trials for cops!

  4. This article only tells us that Mr. Sullum has probably never been involved in a close-quarter confrontation with another man or animal, and he has probably not even participated in such training.
    It is certainly NOT “safe to say that a reasonably prudent person of ordinary firmness and courage would not think he was acting in self-defense by shooting a fleeing man in the back from a distance of six yards.” The fight-or-flight response in a dangerous situation may very well provoke a deadly fighting action so that a “prudent person” can survive. That said, I am not taking sides in the judgement of this event – I don’t have the information the jury had.

    1. You’re right about that, but you miss the point I made above that the cop should never have started chasing him in the first place. It was just a traffic ticket; write the ticket, call for a tow truck, and catch the guy when he comes for the car or sell the car for more than the ticket. Even if teh cop had known about the warrant, it was just child support; impound the car, arrest the guy at the registered address.

      No need to chase in the first place. The cop’s first bad decision was being pissed at disrespect for cop.

      1. I believe most stand-your-ground or self-defense laws only work when the dude making the claim did not start or aggravate the conflict. This cop did so. Someone running away is not an aggressive act; the cop’s taser draw/fire was illegal, the chase was illegal, the shoot was illegal. It was entirely a bad decision from the get-go.

        Maybe not first-degree murder; where’s the premeditation? But surely second-degree, for gross negligence or reckless disregard or whatever they call it. Voluntary manslaughter should have been a slam dunk.

        But disrespect for government cop, that’s a killing.

    2. You have the freaking video, what else do you need? I am astounded at the mental gymnastics people implement to justify this shooting when it is blatantly unjustified.

      1. Q. Would a “civilian” doing this be hung out to dry?

        A. But he’s a cop!

    3. Hey Louis,
      In your vast experience, which animals in close-quarter confrontation flee and then turn around to fight when not cornered? You appear to be stretching the meaning of “close-quarter” ta boot. And not for nothing, but the man quite clearly chose flight. WTF does that tell a prudent person.

      I know, I know. Your not taking sides.

  5. It seems clear that half of the jurors bent over backward to avoid convicting Slager of manslaughter

    He pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violation(s); now he’s (apparently) looking at some 20 years. Maybe a manslaughter conviction in state court would have worked better for him.

    1. So what? Is this travesty of justice supposed to be overlooked on such speculation?

      The “Dept. of Justice” is as just as the “Dept. of Defense” (ex-Dept. of War) is defense.

  6. This alarming double standard also goes a long way toward explaining why so many black people think the U.S. is, you know, racist.

    1. Nonsense. Black people think the US is racist because race-baiting con men like Sharpton, Rev Wright, and former president Obama have used the label of racism to engender political and monetary support.
      I strongly suspect a white guy running like that, and scuffling with the officer would have had the same sad result. There have been a vast number of instances of similar police overreach, but only the ones involving a victim of color are plastered across the national news.

    2. The only double standard is authority vs. private citizen. If private citizens acted the same as authorities they would be judged objectively. Authorities are exempt from that judgement. They get excused and their actions rationalized to avoid admitting the double standard exists.

  7. …I fired until the threat was stopped like I’m trained to do.

    Cops are trained to empty magazines into suspects? What a mighty fine police state we have.

    1. Unlike what movies tell us, a person getting shot typically doesn’t drop or react significantly. Unless its a direct nervous system hit, the shooter could very well empty the gun before having any visual evidence he was actually hitting. So yeh, emptying the gun is common. No amount of training provides the necessary state of mind to deal with the high adrenaline confrontation a cop experiences in situations like this.

      The system is the problem. In no way shape or form, should this have resulted in a chase. let the guy run. figure it out later. Confrontation was not required. The system that encourages cops to enforce petty shit is why we have instances like this. Any enforcement activity can spiral out of control…we’re all human and do stupid crap…on both sides of the badge.

      1. ^THIS^

        There are so many instances of people, whether in actual combat or involved with criminal violence who don’t even know they are shot for the first few minutes.

        So if it is a situation that shooting is justified, shoot as many times as necessary to put the adversary down.

        The problem is too many cops think too many situations justify shooting in the first place.

    2. “Cops are trained to empty magazines into suspects?”

      Not if you can convincingly crumple to the ground without further movement faster than the cop can fully unload. Reflexively touching one’s wounds or writhing in pain means you are not sufficiently incapacitated and in need of further safety measures. It’s best to sustain a quadriplegic shot as your best chance for survival unless Louis has you in his sights. He cannot be too careful with his life.

    3. It’s worse than that. Not only is the initial shooter supposed to empty out, so are all other cops present and arriving. Think about it. This “one kill – all kill” mentality is psychological support and covers up for the first shooter if he “chokes” and misses. Also, it is the “firing squad mentality”. Responsibility is spread out, as in “I wasn’t the only one.”

  8. This is the same stupidity that allows people to believe our government is protecting us when the enemy we are bombing into oblivion has no planes or boats to reach our shores.

  9. Every case is different. In some of the cases that have received national attention, the police were justified in neutralizing dangerous individual. In other cases, such as this one, the cops involved showed a complete lack of common sense and ended up killing citizens over petty or nonexistent charges. Cops are human beings and they will make bad decisions like the rest of us. Training them to aggressively enforce their authority and putting a gun in their hands means those mistakes often end up with the unnecessary, state-sanctioned murder of a civilian. Either our police forces need to better train their officers to de-escalate potentially hostile situations, or they need to develop better non-lethal alternatives that will completely incapacitate suspects without causing death or permanent damage. Of course, the civilians who get shot by the police sometimes act incredibly stupid and cause the situation to spiral out of control themselves as well. But the onus is on the police to analyze and rectify these unacceptable outcomes, not the population. That is what we pay them to do.

    1. In one primary respect, every case is the same: Authorities are exempt from private sector morality. That’s why they don’t “need” to be responsible; they are unaccountable. That’s not a moral justification, just a fact not faced.

      Until the initiation of violence by authority is acknowledged and examined, it will generate injustice. No tweaks will work.

      Or, we can skip the civilized debate and go straight to violent revolt. That has never worked either.

  10. “The jurors who resisted a guilty verdict literally wanted to know whether police officers are bound by the same law as the rest of us” No. Any other questions?

  11. I’m sorry, but the following is true:

    If you get into a confrontation with a cop and you think they are going to shoot you, you have to kill them first. Then you have to surrender to another police jurisdiction. This is literally your only chance of surviving and ever being free again.

    I mean, does anyone else have any way out of one of these situations? I’m open to suggestions.

    1. If you do as the cop asks, you will not get shot.
      Thousands of confrontations between police and citizens happen every day. The number that turn into shootings is extremely rare, and in virtually every case there is an issue where the one shot by the cop does something that the cop feels is threatening to himself or society.
      I don’t know about SC, but in many states police can shoot a fleeing felon, if they feel his escape poses a threat to the public, as in if he has shot one or several people. It’s a tough one to prove but I wonder why it wasn’t included in this case.

      1. If you do as the cop asks, you will not get shot.

        You must be new here. There is a search function on this site, search “police” and you should quickly lose this thought.

        Think “Get down on the ground!” being shouted as they shoot you several times…

  12. Suggestions? Hmmmm, that depends. Is the cop on or off duty? The best defense is a good offense. And it helps if you are in Indiana.

  13. The OP says this was self defense by any stretch of imagination. Say what? He shot him in the back from almost 20 feet while the guy was running AWAY from him. That is NOT self defense by any stretch of imagination. That is intent to stop this guy by any means.

    Something tells me there was far more going on in that jury room than we will ever know. Hung jury, or bullied jury?

    1. Oh, Jack, if only this were jury tampering.

      I used to wonder how people could be so subservient or irrational. I learned (I’m 74) that it’s early programing. If anti-life ideas are indoctrinated in public (govt.) school, which is their purpose, then the cognitive-analytic process is crippled. This makes adults easier to exploit. MSM (propaganda) reinforces the manipulation.

      Thus we have mass self enslavement and willful blindness, e.g., sanction of the victim.

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