A black man is dead, and a police officer stands accused of his murder. That in and of itself is rare enough (unfortunately not the former, but the latter) but the additional issue is that police incident report prior to the surfacing of the video shows the manufactured story that would have most likely gotten the cop completely off the hook.
On Saturday the police released a statement alleging that Scott had attempted to gain control of a Taser from Slager and that he was shot in a struggle over the weapon. The Post And Courier reported the initial story:
Police in a matter of hours declared the occurrence at the corner of Remount and Craig roads a traffic stop gone wrong, alleging the dead man fought with an officer over his Taser before deadly force was employed.
A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him.
That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.
The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him, police alleged.
The story clearly came from Slager but he was able to use the authoritative voice of the police department to bolster his narrative. Meanwhile, Scott could only be defended by friends who did not witness the incident. “Walter was a nice, good, honest person… He was a grown man working hard to take care of his family,” said Samuel Scott, the victim’s cousin.
By Sunday, the police department had clammed up and refused to release any additional information about the events. (It’s unclear when the department became aware of the existence of the video.)
Without the video, Scott’s death never would have been questioned, and certainly we would have been in a familiar position of “not enough evidence to warrant a trial”. The story would have been that Officer Slager A) used his Taser first and somehow missed, or wasn’t able to put Scott down, B) was then attacked by Walter Scott, who “struggled with him over control of the Taser”, and C) was then forced to shoot Scott multiple times during the struggle.
And that would have been the end of the story. Slager would have been placed on leave but as a police officer, with the department backing up his story and no evidence to the contrary, nobody really would have doubted him. He’d be back on the force after the investigation was over.
I still don’t think there will be a murder conviction here. Call me a cynic, but I think the road to justice here will take a very long time, and won’t satisfy very many people. Meanwhile whoever recorded this video? He’s soon going to be Public Enemy #1.