SC shooting case leading the NYT

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I thought this was interesting. This story is leading the New York Times website at the moment:

A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting and killing an apparently unarmed black man in the back while he ran away.

The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, had said he feared for his life because the man took his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening.

The shooting in North Charleston comes on the heels of high-profile incidents of police officers using lethal force in New York, Cleveland, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere around the country. The deaths have sparked a national debate over whether police are too quick to use force, particularly in cases involving black men.

Why? I suppose because the editors consider a situation in which South Carolina is prosecuting a white cop for shooting a black man a man-bites-dog situation, in light of stories that have made national news elsewhere in the past year.

Hey, we could be making headlines for a lot worse reasons than that. And we have.

So this is improvement.

51 thoughts on “SC shooting case leading the NYT

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, in fact SC already dealt with a cop who shot a black motorist in Rock Hill? York? Chester? a couple of months ago. Guy was reaching into his car for his wallet when he was shot.
    I hope this is not going to become a “more racist Southerners” angle….

    1. Mark Stewart

      That was in the St. Andrews area of Cola, Kathryn, no? There was also the “police chief” (of a one officer town) somewhere down around Bamberg who killed another unarmed guy.

      So the cop with his gun is afraid for his life because someone wrestled away (or not as it looks like in the video he planted it on the murdered guy) his stun gun? Bet the cop was wearing a vest, too. Eight shots as well. In the back of a disengaging person.

      It would be interesting if some sort of sound activated trigger control could be mounted to pistols – like if nobody is shooting back the gun will only fire two shots. It’s amazing these sprays of bullets don’t hit more bystanders. They certainly increase the mortality, when the role of a police weapon firing should simply be to end the danger to the officer and others. Lethality is at the far end of the spectrum.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Yes, but we don’t want a “first shot for the crook” rule–if the cop reasonably believes the person has a weapon, he is supposed to shout first, then he can take whatever reasonable action in response. Vests are not perfect defense.

        1. Mark Stewart

          My concern is first with the training/personality needed to make good decisions in a high stress quick reaction setting. Then secondarily it is with the volume of fire that occurs – particularly when nobody is shooting back.

          To me this is another example of the percisious corrosion which is occurring as a result of the militarization of our police forces. Policing ought to be about applying the minimum amount of force necessary to maintain public safety. That is very different from the military’s focus on lethality.

      2. Bryan Caskey

        They certainly increase the mortality, when the role of a police weapon firing should simply be to end the danger to the officer and others. Lethality is at the far end of the spectrum.

        I think the correctly stated goal of the use of force (by a private citizen or a police officer) is to end the threat, which is why it makes no sense to shoot someone fleeing. Almost by definition, someone is not a threat to you if they are fleeing, unless they’re shooting over their shoulder at you or something. There’s no possible excuse for this officer to shoot a fleeing individual. It doesn’t matter if they previously scuffled and wrestled over something. If you shoot someone while wrestling with them and they’re reaching for a weapon, that’s one thing. It’s quite another to wrestle with someone, then disengage, and as they flee from you, you shoot them.

        All of this is on the police officer. He had no reason to shoot this guy whatsoever. I’m not hung up on the eight shots. One shot is one too many. By the by, I’d be interested to see how many shots actually hit the victim. Contrary to what most people will tell you about their shooting skills, or what you see in the movies, unless it’s absolutely point-blank range, it’s extremely difficult to hit a target in a high stress situation with a sidearm.

        I would also like to make the point that just because someone is a police officer does not instantly make them a good person to carry a gun. In so many gun-control arguments, I hear people say things like “Well, the police are trained and know how to use guns. They’re the only ones that should have them.

        Yeah. Not so much.

        1. M.Prince

          As the Boston police engagement with the Tsarnaev brothers showed. Subsequent investigations found that the police there were shooting wildly in multiple directions, sometimes at echoes of their own shots, with some rounds ending up lodged in homes blocks away.

    2. Brad Warthen

      Yes, Kathryn. Recent events have indicated that SC is quite ready to charge the cop when evidence warrants.

      What was bad in this case is that initially, authorities accepted the cop’s sanitized version of what happened…

  2. bud

    Since we’re trying to return to the essense of the game’s original intent let’s get rid of at least one round of playoffs. Eliminate divisions and let the top two teams in each league play a seven game series to see who goes to the world series.

    On the other side of the ledger make the DH rule apply for both leagues. It’s the way it’s played in college and the AL so why not make it universal. I would also limit catcher/pitcher meetings. Perhaps give each team 3 or 4 timeouts per game to allow such meetings. Otherwise the pitcher is on the clock or there is a pitching change.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    Wow. Just watched the video. Very, very bad for the cop.

    Cops are citizens. A citizen who did that would hang. Buy rope. Arrest and proceed to trial. Use rope if found guilty. If I shot a guy in the back eight times, I would be in some serious trouble.

  4. Norm Ivey

    Shot him in the back as he was running away from the cop. There ought be some sort of psychological test they can give officers to weed out these types. Despicable.

  5. M.Prince

    The story is making the rounds of the international press as well (as a top item):

    Le Monde: Etats-Unis : un policier blanc abat un homme noir de huit balles dans le dos

    Frankfurter Allgemeine: Acht Schüsse in den Rücken

    El País: Acusado de asesinato un policía tras matar a tiros a un negro desarmado

    Corriere della sera: Usa, agente bianco spara e uccide un afroamericano

  6. Lynn Teague

    One aspect that is drawing attention, with good reason, is that the police chief immediately gave out the officer’s version of events as if it was established fact. Only the video prevented this from becoming the official account. Further, news account say that it was claimed falsely that officers provided CPR until help arrived. What is being done about other officers (backup arrived promptly, as shown in the video) who might have helped attempt to cover up this murder by lying to superiors about this?

    This brings to mind Sheriff Lott’s extremely unfortunate decision to undertake investigation of officer-involved shootings in-house. That is simply unacceptable. It is extremely hard to be objective under these circumstances. Even if superiors manage to be totally objective, the potential for creating inflammatory situations and mistrust that hurt the community far outweighs any supposed advantages.

    1. M.Prince

      The modern see-something-record-something era has pulled back the curtain to reveal things that have been happening all along but we just never got to see — or chose not to believe.

        1. M.Prince

          It’s never better to be cynical. Skeptical, yes, when and where warranted. But cynical, no.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Well, “worked” is a relative concept. Personally, your approach is very depressing for me.

            2. Doug Ross

              And, to clarify, my cynicism only applies to government and big bureaucracies. In general, I am very optimistic and enjoy life.

    2. Doug Ross

      It’s interesting that there are many professions where the member “close ranks” and will protect their members. Cops, teachers, doctors, and lawyers rarely criticize their peers in public. It’s different in the tech world.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        A lot of lawyers criticize their peers in public, but given that we have to work together in transactional matters, and a good working relationship in litigation matters aids our clients, too, we have to be more careful than techies do. Also, defamation cases are cheaper for a lawyer to bring…
        Doctors in hospitals are often subject to extensive “post mortem” scrutiny, as outlined in several New Yorker articles. It’s akin to what pilots do.

        1. Doug Ross

          Are those “post mortem” reviews made public?

          And there’s a difference between defaming someone and criticizing someone.

          Just today, there’s a Twitter conversation going on related to my industry that addresses how poorly some IT consulting companies are at implementation. Most are willing to admit there is a high failure rate on IT projects (Obamacare?) and that the range of skillsets among practitioners is wide. Is it really any different for cops, teachers, doctors, and lawyers? Have you ever heard a school principal or police chief say “Yeah, most of our people are very good at what they do but some of them are not very good at it”?

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Actually, there is a significant overlap between defaming someone and criticizing him.
            I have heard police chiefs, in private, readily admit to failings of some of their underlings. Saying these things publicly would severely undermine morale!

        2. Mark Stewart

          Attorney’s generally also have more highly refined people skills; though the field has just as many narcissists and sociopaths as any other high-achieving pursuit. That’s a small percentage though, and likely such people are most rampant in the tech world.

  7. Bryan Caskey

    I wouldn’t put lawyers in the group with people who “close ranks” to protect each other.

    Kathryn is right, though. Lawyers do have to work with each other (as clients come and go), so it’s counter-productive to criticize or disparage another lawyer in a personal way. At the end of the day, it’s not personal – it’s strictly business. As for legal positions, we argue with each other and tell other lawyers that we disagree with them all the time.

    But if a lawyer commits malpractice – which is the analogy to the police shooting situation here – then there are plenty of lawyers who would be willing to step forward and take your case. Some lawyers are legal malpractice specialists.

    1. Doug Ross

      Here’s a real world example – the Lexington lawyer, Breitbart, who was convicted last year of extortion and other crimes and shut down his entire practice — are we to assume that none of the many lawyers in his firm had any clue about his behavior? And was there any real public comment by local lawyers denouncing his actions?

      “From 2008 to 2012, Breibart operated an opulently furnished Lexington law practice that had a staff of 22 and a tropical fish aquarium. Each year, he threw lavish Christmas parties that drew hundreds of judges, lawyers and people in the legal and law enforcement professions.”

      Read more here:

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I can only speak for myself. I knew of his firm, but I never met him. I worked on a few cases (maybe two or three) opposing some of the lawyers in his firm, and they were nice enough, I guess and seemed competent. I was never enough of a pezzonovante to be invited to any of his parties, so I can’t speak to those.

        However, from talking to other lawyers, I don’t think even the lawyers working for Breitbart knew he was stealing money. They were out of a job immediately when the practice was shut down, so they were sort of victims, as well. I even heard that Breitbart had failed to pay health insurance premiums for his firm, so some of the lawyers that worked for him (and staff) had all sorts of health insurance claim problems. Maybe some people had a clue. I didn’t know the guy. However, based on how the whole case developed, it seems that he was pulling the wool over lots of people’s eyes, until it all just fell apart.

        Having a staff of 22 sounds about right, though. I think they had maybe 8 – 12 lawyers or something like that, so 22 support staff people sounds right. I’m not sure the tropical fish aquarium rings any sorts of alarm bells for me. In full disclosure, we have a fish aquarium in my office. It’s not tropical, and I think it has a few fish. Our office manager takes care of it.

        As for public condemnation after the fact, I can’t imagine anyone would attempt to justify or excuse such conduct. He is an out-and-out criminal who defrauded a huge number of clients and stole millions. I have nothing but contempt for thieves. Lawyers are supposed to be the opposite of Breitbart. Your lawyer is supposed to keep your secrets inviolate, to be the number one person you trust, your biggest advocate, and someone who can give you advice that you need to hear, even if you don’t like it.

        1. Doug Ross

          How about the lawyer who offered the “pebble in the shoe” DUI defense? Wouldn’t that at least deserve some ridicule from the legal community? (not behind closed doors, lawyer to lawyer commentary).

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Having worked at several law firms, I never had any idea of what the finances were unless they told us. Far too frequently in the last thirty years, lawyers have showed up to work on a Monday morning to a locked, shuttered office. The people in the best position to know a firm’s health, especially one with one guy at the top, are creditors, and embezzlers have a knack for covering their tracks for a really long time. Breitbart was especially effective–stealing from folks who would not realize they were being stolen from for a long, long time, if ever.

          1. Doug Ross

            So this lawyer was working on cases without any assistance? And bringing in millions in extortion money and nobody at the firm ever asked him how he did it? Don’t partner’s get a cut of the revenue?

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Doug, there’s a difference between working cases and handling the money and paying the bills. Although I’m not sure, I don’t think he had any partners. If that was the case, then everyone else was simply his employee (including the other lawyers at the firm) and would not be entitled to know squat about the firm’s finances – good or bad.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                The way I look at it, as long as Doug is busy giving all you lawyers hell for whatever this guy did, he’s too busy to hold me accountable for the royal journalistic cluster____ by Jann Wenner and “Rolling Stone.”

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doesn’t that kind of defy the meaning of the word “partner”? Doesn’t “partner” indicate a person who is in an equal relationship with at least one other “partner?”

              You can’t be both a sole proprietor and a “partner.” They’re sort of mutually exclusive. I mean, lawyers are known for butchering the language, but this goes a bit far…

            3. Bryan Caskey

              Yeah, “partner” is kind of the colloquial term. A more accurate word would be “sole member” or “sole shareholder”, which means he’s the only person with an equity interest in the business. Everyone else is simply an employee.

            4. Doug Ross

              I’m still skeptical (as usual)… he’s bringing in huge revenues — doesn’t someone in the firm have to record the deposits? There’s no documentation of what money is coming in and what it is for? He’s handling all of the financial transactions himself? There’s no discussion in the office among the other lawyers about how Breitbart is a cash cow and how can we do the same thing?

              1. Bryan Caskey

                You’d have to look look through his criminal case, Doug. I can’t really tell you anything more. All I know is what I’ve seen in the papers. I’m not sure what your point is, though.

            5. Doug Ross

              It goes back to my earlier point — there is a “closed ranks” mentality within many professions that keeps bad news in house. Would a lawyer who THOUGHT Breitbart was doing something wrong follow up on it? Has anyone from within the firm been quoted publicly denouncing Breitbart? I’m not saying that hasn’t happened but my sense is that it is just not discussed in the public forum.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                Would a lawyer who THOUGHT Breitbart was doing something wrong follow up on it?

                I think so. I think that when honest lawyers see what they think is an ethical breach in another lawyer (stealing a client’s money is the big one) then you report them to the ODC.

                As for “dragging out” a litigated case to gain an advantage? One man’s “foot dragging” may be part of the other side’s strategy. Litigation ain’t beanbag. All I have to say about that is that if your lawyer isn’t doing everything they can (ethically, and within the bounds of the law) to gain an advantage in your case, you have a lazy lawyer.

            6. Doug Ross

              Who paid for the Boston Marathon bomber’s legal representation? Did it really require this long to reach a verdict? It’s too bad there isn’t some better way to offer speedy due process in open-and-shut cases.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                Just guessing, but I would guess he had federal public defenders. So we all paid for it, I guess.

                Oh, and you want a faster, more straightforward legal system with less delays? Well guess what, ol’ buddy: So does everyone else.

  8. clark surratt

    Several of you remarked how cops ought to be superior in psychological makeup, trained in interpersonal relations, steeled on how to act under fire, accurate with weapons such as pistols and mace, have a college degree. Sounds great, and how much are we willing to pay for these near perfect people?

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