It’s not THAT unusual in SC for white cops to be charged with shooting unarmed black men

post shoot

That’s kind of a two-edged headline, isn’t it? On the one hand, it suggests that it’s not that unusual for white cops to shoot unarmed black men in SC. And indeed, The State recently reported that police have shot at people more than 200 times in the past five years.

But my point was that the charges against North Charleston cop Michael Thomas Slager for shooting and killing motorist Walter Scott are not unique.

That was in my mind last night when I was sort of surprised to see the story leading the NYT. But I was in a rush, and my laptop was taking an absurd amount of time to perform the most basic operations, so I didn’t stop to look up the recent incidents that were at the back of my mind.

But this morning, when I saw the Washington Post story (which The State led with) that characterized the charge as “what seems to be an unprecedented move in South Carolina,” I thought I should take a moment to do some basic research. I was further spurred by this quote from my old friend Joe Darby, also in the Post:

“I am surprisingly and gratifyingly shocked because to the best of my memory, I cannot think of another occasion in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of Charleston’s NAACP branch.

Warming to his subject, Joe further spread his rhetorical wings:

“My initial thought was, ‘Here we go again. This will be another time where there will be a cursory investigation. It will be the word of law enforcement versus those who are colored as vile perpetrators. People will get very mad, but at the end of the day nothing will change.’ This kind of changed the game,” Darby said of the video and Slager’s arrest.

When Joe says he cannot think of another case ” in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” I believe him. But his memory is dead wrong.

Just in the last few months, there have been at least two such cases, which I found in just a few moments this morning:

  • State Trooper Sean Groubert was fired and charged with a felony, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, after his dashboard video showed him shooting Levar Edward Jones in the Columbia area. Groubert’s trial has not yet been held, but Jones  has received a nearly $300,000 settlement from the state.
  • Former Eutawville police chief Richard Combs was charged with murder in the May 2, 2011, shooting death of Bernard Bailey. A mistrial was declared in the case when the jury deadlocked in January.

Now, let’s be clear: As The State reported, no cop of any race has yet been convicted in any of those 209 shootings in the past five years.

And these three cases seem to be unusual in that there was video evidence in two  cases, and the other took place right in front of the courthouse in Eutawville. So this should certainly add fuel to the national movement to have cops wear body cameras at all times.

But it’s plain that these charges were not “unprecedented,” and that Joe Darby’s memory is lacking. And maybe the world’s press got excited over this “unprecedented” case for the wrong reasons. (Based on modern news standards, it’s still a good story, because of the video causing the authorities to reverse themselves. The horrific video itself — which you can see below — is enough for such a story to go viral. But it’s not man-bites-dog.)

Finally, I just noticed that the Post has corrected itself. Its current version of the story no longer contains the unwarranted speculation that the situation is “unprecedented.” But the story still leads the Post’s site. More to the point, is still leading with the old, erroneous version.

50 thoughts on “It’s not THAT unusual in SC for white cops to be charged with shooting unarmed black men

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Not only has the Post corrected itself, but it is now running this new story about another such recent case in SC:

    A white public safety officer in South Carolina who shot and killed a black man following a 2014 car chase has been arrested on a felony charge, the state’s Law Enforcement Division announced on Tuesday.

    Justin Gregory Craven, a 25-year-old North Augusta public safety officer, was charged with discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle in connection to the February 2014 death of Ernest Satterwhite. If convicted, Craven could go to prison for up to 10 years and face a fine of $1,000….

  2. M.Prince

    “maybe the world’s press got excited over this ‘unprecedented’ case for the wrong reasons”

    Well, the world press isn’t much interested (nor need it be) in comparative statistics on South Carolina arrests of white policemen for shooting black men. The reason for the story going viral has to do with context (i.e. Ferguson and all the other recent incidents) combining with the relative rarity of capturing a police shooting like this on video. Beatings, that’s one thing. Shootings, that’s something different. Besides, as the old adage says: “If it bleeds, it leads” (or, I guess, “ledes”?). That certainly holds true with local TV news broadcasts. Print follows its lead (or, maybe, lede).

  3. Abba

    The North Charleston officer has been charged with murder. How many other law enforcement officers have been charged with that particular crime in SC? In the Post article you cited in your comment, Brad, the officer was charged with discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, not murder.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The former Eutawville police chief was charged with murder AND voluntary manslaughter.

      Normally, you wouldn’t expect an out-and-out murder charge, because usually these cases aren’t that clear-cut. One thing that does set this North Charleston case apart is that you see a cop who is obviously not threatened deliberately shooting a fleeing man in the back. Hence the murder charge.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Statement from Lindsey Graham today:

    Graham Statement on North Charleston Shooting

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made the following statement on the shooting death of Walter Scott.

    “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Walter Scott. The horrific video is very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts.

    “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.

    “I also know the actions of the officer in this situation do not accurately reflect on the many valuable contributions made by thousands of law enforcement officers in South Carolina and across our nation.”


  5. Brad Warthen

    Our old friend (actually, I suppose “young friend” is more accurate) Corey Hutchins has a scoop over at The Daily Beast: An interview with the lawyer who dropped the cop as his client like a hot potato as soon as the video surfaced….

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Ummm, not sure that I would be giving interviews if I were Aylor. That strikes me as bad form. If you’re going to withdraw as counsel, just shut up. Don’t go around giving interviews. Just shut up.

      1. Doug Ross

        I read the interview. What did he say that was inappropriate? I’m actually glad he dropped the case when he saw the video rather than use tactics other lawyers might employ to try and discount it.

        Or is this another one of those “Rule #1 of the Law Club is that we don’t talk about the Law Club”

        1. Bryan Caskey

          What he should have said: “I have withdrawn as counsel. No comment.” Anything further is bad form, in my opinion. He shouldn’t be editorializing. His comments just reek of “MY CLIENT IS GUILTY”, and he shouldn’t do or say anything that remotely implies that, even if that is in fact the case. That’s just my two cents, for whatever it’s worth.

          Also, as an aside: Compare how lawyers get to pick and choose their clients for any reason at all, while the little peons who bake cakes in Indiana better hide their Bibles and snap to when anyone comes in to their shop asking to be served.

          1. Doug Ross

            Who is paying for Slager’s legal counsel? The city? If so, then Aylor should be applauded for not taking easy money for what should be an open-and-shut case of murder.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              You think representing a widely reviled client, potentially facing the death penalty, at the center of a race-relations shooting with national press scrutiny, and then zealously advocating for him in the face of overwhelming public opinion is “easy money”?

              Come now.

            2. Bryan Caskey

              Frankly, I look at it the other way. I am guessing that Aylor didn’t want the heat.

            3. Doug Ross

              I guess I was thinking along the lines of how long the attorney can drag out the process. If he gets his client to plead to a lesser charge in a reasonable amount of time, then I withdraw my skepticism.

              As for “You think representing a widely reviled client, potentially facing the death penalty, at the center of a race-relations shooting with national press scrutiny, and then zealously advocating for him in the face of overwhelming public opinion is “easy money”?”

              Do the names F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, and Alan Dershowitz ring any bells? Probably more bells than would ring for Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, and Alan Dershowitz”

                Hahahahaha. You’re a funny guy.

                You mean OJ’s defense team? Yeah, you just listed three of the top criminal defense attorneys of the mid 1990’s for the entire country.

                That would be like me saying “Hey man, anyone can hit a fastball, so that sure is some easy money playing major league baseball. I mean, look at Tony Gwynn, Frank Thomas, and Ken Griffey, Jr., those guys ring any bells?

            4. Doug Ross

              And to follow up on something Brad mentioned earlier – the Rolling Stone / UVa rape case story has now generated a significant amount of PUBLIC backlash / analysis / navel gazing by member of the media that you just don’t see in other professions.

              Doctors don’t talk about other doctors who commit malpractice. Teachers don’t talk about firing bad teachers. Policemen have an external p.r. system that doesn’t reflect reality.

            5. Doug Ross

              Let’s say the cop’s lawyer finds some way to get him a reduced sentence… will that be good for business down the road or a detriment?

            6. Brad Warthen Post author

              Well, journalists are about letting it all hang out, and letting the chips fall.

              MOST are. I’ve worked with a few who aren’t as open as they should be about mistakes or flaws in their work. But most are so accustomed to people openly criticizing what they do that they’re fairly thick-skinned.

              That was actually a problem for me in seeing the need for a civility policy on the blog. I didn’t much care about the trolls one way or the other, because I was used to being called all sorts of names. But when I realized it bothered OTHER people, and was running off good people from participating in the blog, I realized I had to do something.

              Also, even when journalists ARE sensitive and find criticism painful, they usually acknowledge that since they are urging transparency in everyone else, it would be hypocritical to try to hide their own dirty laundry…

            7. Brad Warthen Post author

              You know, speaking of the civility policy…

              I SOMETIMES wonder whether we’ve lost some dynamism here on the blog since I cracked down. There was a time when I took 200 and more comments a day for granted, and pretty much reveled in having such a lively forum.

              Now, we have a tiny fraction of that. I console myself that it is much more civil and therefore the kind of forum I appreciate — I really do believe that one of society’s greatest problems is incivility in political discourse, and we manage to have good discussions without that.

              But it was kind of cool having ten times as many comments a day…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Bryan, you may be interested in what Slager’s NEW counsel had to say about his predecessor:

            “As we focus in on the facts, we will probably have more to say, but it is far too early for us to be saying what we think. Slager’s previous counsel fell into that trap and we have no intention of doing our client further harm.”

            1. Doug Ross

              ” we have no intention of doing our client further harm.”

              He left off “than he has already done to himself”.

              If this goes to trial, the lawyer may be doing his job but he’s also not doing what is right. Please, let’s not turn this into a discovery process that takes months and months followed by “expert” testimony analyzing the video, followed by a trashing of the victim’s background and then, ultimately, a guilty verdict.

            2. Bob Amundson

              Mr. Santana, the witness that shot the video, told Lester Holt that before he began recording this incident, there was a struggle. “Before I started recording, they were down on the floor. I remember the police had control of the situation …”

              Any person that has been in a struggle like this would understand how much the adrenaline is pumping, and how you react by instinct, not always making the best decision(s). In combat, it’s called “the fog of war.”

              I am not defending what Michael Slager did, but I do understand how it could happen. My point is that his attorney has a very important function, to provide Slager his constitutionally guaranteed defense. I believe Michael Slager will be convicted, by a jury of his peers, of something. Manslaughter? Murder? Not my call.

            3. Mark Stewart


              Having a legal system which investigates and validates claims is one of the hallmarks of our society. Anyone can make a claim; we need to sort out the truth from the untruth. That’s a really important thing.

              Whether the guy is guilty or not, he deserves a strongly argued and fairly supported defense. As I disagreed with Brad’s argument that a cake baker is a bono fide participant in the ceremony of which the cake itself is a part, so too would I take issue with your statement that the attorney is tarnished simply for representing such a defendant. The client is guilty or innocent – the attorney is doing his or her job when they mount the best defense that they can conjure up. This is a good thing. Yes, some people will get away with a crime, but many, many more people will not be unfairly convicted of something which should not have been pinned on them.

  6. bud

    Since everyone loves guns lets try this little scenario on for size. What if instead of a smart phone Feidin Santana had pulled out a gun and shot Officer Slager as he pulled out his pistol and fired. Feidin wings Slager and prevents a killing. This saves Mr. Scott but only wings Slager. Does Santana face criminal charges for interfering in the activities of the police? Almost certainly he does since there is no video evidence of the event. The lying bastard Slager makes up some malarkey which is believed by NCPD. Under what set of circumstances would have MORE guns improved the outcome of this situation?

    On the other hand, I would maintain that if there had been no guns at all this incident would have been much less lethal. Eventually Mr. Scott would have been apprehended for his back child support and all involved would have gotten on with their lives. As it is we have a brutal murder that prevents any possibility of collecting child support, an 8 month pregnant wife without a husband and a community in taters. Perhaps we should consider what the police do in parts of Europe and eliminate the routine arming of police officers. (No I’m not on drugs suggesting this but what better place to air one’s outrageous fantasies than Brad’s Blog) .

  7. bud

    As far as Brad’s lamenting the reduction in posts I would only suggest that the topics are sometimes rather lame. Not sure a post about an unknown candidate dropping out of the City Council race is going to command much of a buzz. Perhaps a post about Rand Paul’s appearance at the Yorktown would have attracted more attention.

    1. Doug Ross

      Hardly. But look how long it took to reach an obvious verdict in the Boston marathon bomber trial. Because of the video evidence, this case should not take much time you resolve. What is the defense strategy going to be? The video is fake?
      The cop shot the guy in the back while he was ten yards or more away. All of the initial claims made prior to the video are obviously false. What more must be done? how long should it take?

      You think if the situation was reversed and there was video of a black guy shooting a cop in the back that we’d have the same trial?

      1. The America Welcome Wagon

        You think if the situation was reversed and there was video of a black guy shooting a cop in the back that we’d have the same trial?

        Dear Mr. Ross:

        Greetings, traveler! I noticed from your comment that you must be new here in America. We hope you enjoy your visit here! However, you may be surprised to find that here in America, we have this quirky little thing called “Due Process”.

        Here’s how it works: Before anyone is convicted of a crime, we have thing called a “trial” where the accused person can present witnesses and evidence, and even testify in their own defense, or refuse to testify at all! Sometimes it takes awhile to go through this process, but we’ve all collectively decided that it’s probably worth it to have trials for people accused of crimes, even if it’s fairly obvious that the person did, in fact, commit the crime. And you know what will really blow your mind? We even presume that people accused of a crime are not guilty, and we make the other side prove that they did actually commit the crime. Crazy, huh?

        Now, I’ll admit this whole “Due Process” thing does have some drawbacks. In the first place, it’s not as cost-effective as lining accused people up against a wall and shooting them on the spot. Also, it takes longer. Both of these things really annoy people who are looking to cut costs or who are impatient. I can tell from your comment that you are both cost-conscious and you don’t like waiting around for things. Sorry!

        On the plus side, it does inspire lots of TV dramas and movies. My Cousin Vinnie is a good example of this.

        Enjoy your time here in America, new friend!


        The America Welcome Wagon

        1. Doug Ross

          Unless you’re black or poor.

          There’s due process and undue process. O.J. Simpson got trial a rich black man can buy. Every day there are all sorts of legal shenanigans being played out in courtrooms across the country.

          The American flag-wrapped hyperbolic response to my wish for swift justice is silly. What would be a REASONABLE amount of time required to bring this to a conclusion? I am not asking for any steps to be skipped… I am HOPING the cop will be offered a deal post haste that will avoid a trial. How much evidence must be gathered? We’ve got a cop who has lied about the details of the shooting, a dead body that the coroner can confirm was a result of gunshots to the back, a video tape, and a dashboard cam tape. What else do we need to proceed? Do we need to know anything else about the victim? Does it matter whether he paid child support or not? Does it matter what his prior record was? If he shot the cop, he’d be processed VERY quickly.. if he survived a night in jail where he might “fall down” and break his skull.

          It’s nice to live in a fantasy world where the American justice system is perceived to be a model of fairness… too bad the reality says otherwise.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Every day there are all sorts of legal shenanigans being played out in courtrooms across the country.”

            “It’s nice to live in a fantasy world where the American justice system is perceived to be a model of fairness… too bad the reality says otherwise.”

            It ain’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we got. I’ll take the American legal system over pretty much any other country’s legal system.

            As for this particular case, I would guess the Defendant would like to make a deal that takes the death penalty off the table. Since I brought it up, anyone feel like this police officer should or should not receive the death penalty if convicted?

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Nobody should ever get the death penalty. Jeebers, we supposed to be a civilized, enlightened society!

            2. Mark Stewart

              Since hardly anyone does actually get executed, it is a fine thing to keep as a prosecutor option. Without it, why would anyone ever plead to life in prison?

              Sometimes when you want “B”, you have to aim for “A” to achieve the goal.

            3. Bob Amundson

              Counselor, should or should not is not the issue. Is there legal justification to execute Slager? My non-attorney interpretation of the law results in my belief there are “mitigating circumstances” that make it highly improbable that Slager could receive the death penalty.

              Plead to Second Degree Murder to avoid the possibility of First Degree and life without parole. Role the dice and hope for a friendly jury and receive manslaughter. What do you want to do, Mr. Slager?

            4. bud

              If Susan Smith and Jodi Arias didn’t get the death penalty nobody should. Since I don’t think ANYONE under ANY circumstances should get the death penalty I’m not really qualified to answer. However, I’ll pretend for the moment that I do support death. This case does not seem to fit the criteria. Doesn’t there have to be aggravating circumstances? Bad as this was I don’t think it rises to that level, unless Mr. Scott was targeted from the beginning. Perhaps the fact that medical attention seemed to be withheld for such a long time perhaps that could be an aggravating circumstance. However, it does seem like a good 40 years would not be too excessive.

            5. Mark Stewart

              I can’t get past the walking back to fetch the taser and dropping it next to the handcuffed body. The one he purported to give CPR to but didn’t. After shooting him (or at least at him) 8 times in the back as he ran and was clearly no threat to the officer or to the community when the officer drew his weapon.

              I see, from this juncture, no reason why the death penalty should not be on the table in this situation. Let’s let the trial determine the level of guilt. Maybe the ex-cop is entirely innocent. If so, fine. If not, he should be convicted and sentenced.

            6. Norm Ivey

              I’m with Kathryn and Bud on this one. We’ve outgrown vengeance.

              I’m pleased by the way drug companies which produce lethal drugs are partly driving this argument now. They’re forcing us to think about what it means to execute.

            7. Mark Stewart

              Maybe so, Bob. I’m not an attorney.

              But I read your link, and when I read the list of aggravating circumstances, I thought Larcenry was an interesting one in this case. By “planting” the taser (carrying it away to convert it to the defendant’s criminal purposes), did the ex-cop not misappropriate the P.D.’s property for personal gain?

              While I am personally mostly opposed to the actual application of the death penalty, I do keep seeing situations that remind me that there is value in retaining this judicial option.

              This occurrence is really everyone’s version of horrific police abuse, other law enforcement officer’s included I am sure. Whatever occurred beforehand, once the ex-cop drew his weapon he took the law into his own hands and then did everything he could to cover up his crime, while the victim lay handcuffed and dying.

            8. Bob Amundson

              My lawman’s analysis of the law results in my belief that it would be a long stretch to prove aggregating circumstances (although I do concede, Mark, that the apparent attempt by Mr. Slager to “plant” evidence is extremely troubling), and that there are mitigating circumstances easy to prove (e.g., “The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal conviction involving the use of violence against another person.”).

              I do not see Mr. Slager as evil, as I do some murderers (such as Smith, Arias, Bundy, Tsarnaev, etc.). Although “fog of war” may not be the term his defense attorneys use, his state of mind due to the chase and the struggle will become part of any adequate defense.

              I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. If I could be certain that only guilty people are executed, I may lean towards the death penalty. Since there seems to be no way to ensure only the guilty are executed, I lean towards no death penalty. For the moment . . .

              1. Bryan Caskey

                I agree with almost all of that, Bob. I was initially just brainstorming about the death penalty, and I honestly didn’t know about the statutory aggravating factors which are in the law.

                What troubles me most – why I favor a harsh penalty here – about the shooting of Walter Scott is that the shooter was a law enforcement officer. The shooter is someone we as a community trust to enforce our laws, and we give them the state sanctioned monopoly on violence to do so. It’s a breach of trust issue for me – even though that doesn’t fully describe it. It’s a betrayal of sorts. This officer – Mr. Slager – was supposed to be someone that “protects and serves” the public. However, he’s done exactly the opposite, and the shirking of duty really bothers me.

                It seems that this fact pattern does not support the death penalty, but a small part of me feels a betrayal so deep that I want to invoke it. On the other hand, I hate to inflict capital punishment on someone who made a split-second bad decision.

                I’m glad that I’m not part of this case, and I’m glad that I’m not in the potential jury pool. I really don’t know what I think about this shooting. I don’t know what the right punishment is. Usually, I’m much more certain of my feelings on things.

            9. Mark Stewart

              As far as mitigating circumstances go, Slager most likely has (C)(b)(1) in his favor. As a police officer, I would hope that he does not have a violent crime conviction.

              On the other hand, if his attorney were to argue either (b)(3), (b)(5), (b)(6), or (b)(8) – four different ways to blame the victim – as a potential juror I myself might be inclined to reject any mitigating factor(s).

            10. Bob Amundson

              I suggest our leaders consider some changes. First, I hope our country has learned that declaring “war” against social issues is not helpful. As expected, the war on crime and the war on drugs has created a national police force that is highly militarized. Granted, statistics clearly show that during these “wars” the crime rate, including violent crime, has decreased. But at what cost? Prisons, many of them private, needing to fill beds, with a high rate of young, black men being incarcerated.

              More effective screening of police officers is necessary. We need the best and the brightest to serve and protect, and be willing to pay the cost of attracting high quality candidates. Listening to a group of military pilots you may hear the phrase “99% boredom, 1% sheer terror.” Policing is similar, and the amount of screening and training to become military aviators may be what is needed for our police forces.

  8. Mark Stewart

    As far as mitigating circumstances go, Slager most likely has (C)(b)(1) in his favor. As a police officer, I would hope that he does not have a violent crime conviction.

    On the other hand, if his attorney were to argue either (b)(3), (b)(5), (b)(6), or (b)(8) – four different ways to blame the victim – as a potential juror I myself might be inclined to reject any mitigating factor(s).

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