NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina – The police officer who was filmed shooting a man in the back eight times, killing him, has been fired. But many in this community, including the victim’s family, feel that officials have only begun to tread down a path toward justice.
As North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said Wednesday that the city had fired Michael Slager, the officer involved in the shooting, protesters interrupted him with chants of “No justice, no peace.”
The brother of Walter Scott, the South Carolina man shot and killed by Slager as he fled Saturday, said only a finding of guilt in the case will satisfy him. Meanwhile, the mayor pledged his support for the Scott family hours after angry protesters gathered outside City Hall Wednesday morning.
“I won’t be satisfied until I hear guilty verdict,” Anthony Scott, Walter Scott’s older brother, told msnbc’s Joy Reid in an interview. “That’s when I’ll be satisfied.”
Protesters blocked traffic for about fifteen minutes Wednesday morning as they demonstrated outside City Hall.
On Tuesday, video surfaced showing the officer, Michael Slager, who is white, shooting Scott in the back as he attempted to flee. Scott appears to have been unarmed. Slager has been charged with murder and remains jailed without bond.
Summey called the Scott family “an outstanding family within our community,” and pledged support for them at the upcoming funeral. But he repeatedly declined to answer questions about the investigation, saying it’s in the hands of state law enforcement.
Summey added that the department would equip all officers with body cameras going forward, and would review departmental policies in order to foster better relations with the local community.
“I have watched the video and I was sickened by what I saw,” said North Charleston police chief Eddie Diggers.
The U.S. Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Andy Savage, a high-profile Charleston lawyer, announced Wednesday he’ll represent Slager. Savage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to police reports, the confrontation between Slager, 33, and Scott, 50, began after the officer stopped Scott for driving with a broken tail-light. Scott ran away, and Slager chased him on foot. Slager fired his Taser but it didn’t stop Scott. Slager reported on his radio: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.”
Slager later said through his lawyer that he feared for his life.
But the video that surfaced Tuesday painted a somewhat different picture. It shows the two men tussling, then Scott running away. Slager then fires eight shots at Scott as he flees. At the last shot, Scott falls to the ground. Slager then runs back to the site of the tussle, picks up something from the ground, and drops it near Scott’s body.
The video also shows Slager and another officer who arrived not giving first aid to Scott as he lies on the ground. Summey said at the press conference he’d been told that first aid was later performed, but couldn’t confirm it.
Speaking to msnbc’s Reid, Anthony Scott accused Slager of a “setup” by dropping what may have been the taser near Walter Scott’s body, saying Slager was “trying to cover his story.”
Rodney Scott, Walter Scott’s younger brother, said that the inaccurate initial police report, which suggested Walter tried to grab the officer’s Taser and posed a threat, was tough for the family to take.
“We were grossly traumatized from the story,” Rodney Scott said. “All the lies that were told about what may have taken place. We were just traumatized because we knew that wasn’t my brother’s character.”
“That perpetuated the wrong thoughts and beliefs on what happened,” added Charles Stewart, a lawyer for the family. “People immediately started writing it off as, oh, he deserved it. It just perpetuated the immediate assumptions that occur.”
After the video surfaced, Slager’s lawyer, David Aylor, said he was no longer representing the officer.
Rodney Scott said he believes Walter Scott ran because he didn’t want to be jailed for a failure to pay child support. Walter Scott had been arrested in the past for failure to pay child support among other issues, according to the Post and Courier of Charleston.
“I know he’s on child support and we talk about it all the time,” Rodney Scott said. “And he said that’s what he would do, he would run, because he’s not going to jail for child support.”
Anthony Scott said that after he went to the shooting scene and began taking pictures, officers took his camera, telling him he wasn’t allowed to take pictures. He said the camera was eventually returned with the pictures still on it. He described the officers on the scene as unhelpful and unsympathetic.
Stewart called the appearance of the video “a gift from God,” saying the man who took it approached the family with it. He said the man wasn’t previously known to the family, and is talking to investigators.
“I just couldn’t believe what I was watching,” Anthony Scott said, referring to when he was first shown the video. Were it not for the video, he said, “we would not be at this point in the case that we are now.”
Late Tuesday, 2016 presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rand Paul, responded to the incident. ”Praying for #WalterScott’s family. Heartbreaking & too familiar. We can do better - rebuild trust, reform justice system, respect all lives,” Clinton, who has yet to formally announce her candidacy, tweeted. Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN conducted here by coincidence, Paul, who announced his campaign launch Monday, said, “First, I would like to say it’s just a terrible tragedy, and I hope justice does occur.” He then estimated that “98, 99% of [police officers] … aren’t doing things like this.”
A host of elected officials, including conservative Republicans, have denounced the shooting. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a North Charleston native, called the episode “senseless,” and unnecessary and avoidable.” The state’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, called the video “deeply troubling.” Gov. Nikki Haley called the shooting “unacceptable,” adding that “the criminal judicial process will proceed fully.”
That response stands in contrast to the shooting by a police officer last summer of Ferguson, Missouri’s Michael Brown, which was not caught on camera. Many public officials offered hedged and cautious responses in that case, and a grand jury ultimately chose not to indict the officer involved.
In a statement, Rev. Al Sharpton said he had spoken with the Scott family. “Walter Scott’s death is a senseless tragedy and we commend the city of North Charleston for acting swiftly to deliver justice in this case,” Sharpton said.
Since last summer, a string of deaths of black citizens at the hands of police, from the Ferguson shooting to Staten Island, New York to Cleveland has put a spotlight on the frayed relationship between law enforcement and minorities, and sparked a national movement for police reform.
North Charleston has a population of about 100,000, about 47% of whom are African-American. According to Justice Department data from 2007, the most recent available, around four out of five police officers are white. The department has been accused in the past of unfairly targeting minority residents.
A new NBC News poll shows 65% of respondents think their local police treat people the same regardless of race. But 50% of black respondents said police treat minorities more harshly than whites. Just 20% of white respondents agreed.
Choking back tears, Rodney Scott described his late brother as a “family man.” “We talked about him buying this big van and taking his kids to Sea World,” Rodney Scott said. “He’s not going to be able to do it.”