The white police officer who fatally shot a fleeing black man in the US city of North Charleston has been fired after he was charged with murder, the mayor said Wednesday.
Speaking at a highly charged press conference frequently interrupted by residents angered at America’s latest high-profile police killing of a black man, Mayor Keith Summey said the city had moved quickly to fire the officer after Saturday’s shooting.
“I will also let you know that the officer … was terminated. … He is no longer here,” he said, vowing to speed the introduction of body cameras to be worn by police to record alleged abuses.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he had not spoken to President Barack Obama about the case, but that video footage of the shooting was “awfully hard to watch.”
“It’s an example of how body cameras worn by police officers could have a positive impact in terms of build and trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” he said.
The officer, 33-year-old Michael Slager, has been charged with murder after he was filmed shooting Walter Scott, 50, repeatedly in the back after a scuffle that began with a traffic stop for a broken tail light.
An unidentified passer-by recorded the chilling incident, in which Scott is seen being shot as he tried to run from Slager, then is handcuffed as he lay fatally wounded.
Slager was charged with murder on Tuesday, and could face a sentence of up to life in prison or the death penalty.
A group of protesters stood outside city hall and briefly blocked traffic Wednesday morning, chanting and holding signs with slogans such as: “Stop racist police terror.”
Protesters in the press conference yelled, “No justice, no peace,” as Summey struggled to keep order. The mayor announced that the police department would buy more than 100 body cameras for officers to wear in the future.
Scott’s father, also named Walter, said the family was devastated by his son’s death, but was grateful for the video evidence.
“The way he was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer or something running through the woods. I don’t know whether it was racial or something wrong with his head or what,” the father told NBC’s Today Show.
“I thank God they had the video. God has my back. When I saw it, my heart was broken. I said, ‘It can’t be.’ I saw it. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Several killings of unarmed black men by police officers in recent months have sparked sometimes violent protests across the United States with demonstrators alleging racism in the nation’s police.
Officers have rarely been charged in the shootings, even when the incidents were recorded.
In this case, Slager says into his radio after the shooting that Scott had taken his stun gun, The New York Times said, quoting police reports.
However, the video shows wires from the stun gun extending from Scott’s body, implying that the victim rather than the police officer had been hit as the two men scuffled.
As Scott, who was heavy-set, tries to flee, Slager draws his handgun and shoots eight times toward his back. Scott falls after the last shot.
The officer later approaches Scott, who is on the ground, telling him to put his hands behind his back, before putting him in handcuffs.
Slager appears to pick up a device that had fallen during the altercation and drop it by Scott’s body.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina expressed his dismay after seeing the video.
“The horrific video is very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts,” Graham said.
“I have full confidence this incident will continue to be investigated by the relevant authorities, the legal process will proceed, and ultimately, justice will be done.”
– Shot five times –
The victim’s family spoke out at a news conference after the officer’s arrest and called the unidentified person who filmed the video a hero.
“If there wasn’t a video, would we know the truth? Or would we have just gone with what was reported earlier? But we know the truth now,” Scott’s brother Anthony said in remarks broadcast on MSNBC.
They remembered Scott as a Dallas Cowboys football fan and loving father of four.
Scott was hit by five bullets — three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear, said family lawyer Chris Stewart, quoting the coroner who examined Scott’s body, according to the Times.
The US Justice Department released a statement saying it would “take appropriate action in light of the evidence and developments in the state case.”
– A string of shootings –
The killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August was a catalyst for a recent surge in protests and a renewed debate on racism and police tactics.
A jury chose not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer for the shooting. Since then, other killings by police have prompted protests in cities from coast to coast.
In December, two New York police officers were killed by a gunman who had boasted he was going to avenge police abuses.
Police officers have enjoyed significant legal leeway in the United States and prosecutors and civilian grand juries have often proved reluctant to indict them over excessive force.
The US Justice Department has launched investigations into a number of police departments after shootings.
It unearthed what it called damning evidence of racism in the Ferguson police force after Brown’s shooting.