Charleston, SC (WLTX) – Jury selection begins today in the the trial of the former North Charleston Police officer accused of killing an unarmed man last year.
Michael Slager shot and killed 50-year-old Walter Scott in April of 2015. The incident gained attention not just in South Carolina, but across the nation and internationally. It also sparked a debate about the use of force by law enforcement, and led to a call for the body cameras for all officers.
A lot has happened since the incident occurred. News 19 has the answers to five common questions regarding this case.
Q. When does the trial start, where is it being held and what is the jury deciding?
A. The trial starts Monday morning with jury selection at the Charleston County Judicial Center. The jury will be deciding whether or not Slager is guilty of murder.
If convicted, Slager could face 30 years in prison.
Q. What is known right now, and what will both sides argue?
A. Slager, 34, was working for the North Charleston Police officer when he pulled over Scott on April 4, 2015 for a broken tail light. Scott ran from the scene, Slager followed him in a foot chase, and the two ended up in a nearby private park. According to Slager, Scott resisted arrest and a struggle ensued, ending with Slager firing multiple shots into the back of Scott as he ran away, killing him.
In the days after the killing, however, a cell phone video taken by a man passing by the park surfaced showing the final moments before the death. That video led law enforcement to bring the murder charge against Slager, and he was subsequently fired by the City of North Charleston.
Slager's attorneys are expected to argue that Slager feared for his life, and that the video that the public has seen so far doesn't show the full story, including what they say was Scott trying to grab Slager's taser. Prosecutors are expected to counter that there was no justification whatsoever for the shooting, and that Slager broke all rules of police protocol by firiing at Scott while he was both unarmed and no longer a threat to Slager's safey.
Q. Who is the judge and the chief attorneys who'll be arguing the case?
A. Judge Clifton Newman is presiding over the case. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is representing the State of South Carolina while Cameron Jane Blazer, Donald L McCune Jr., and Andy Savage are representing Slager. Blazer, McCune and Savage are with Savage Law Firm.
Q. What will happen with that infamous cell phone video of the incident during the trial?
A. A man walking past the park on his way to work saw the confrontation between Slager and Scott, pulled out his phone, and began recording. That video was then given to the Scott family in the days after the killing, and shortly afterward, the media and law enforcement got a look at it as well. The video was replayed over and over again on TV broadcasts and websites around the globe.
Since then, it hasn't been show quite as much, in part because of a copyright claim made by the man who recorded the video. However, since it will be part of the evidence presented to the jury, it will once again be the focus of legal and public interest.
It likely won't be the only recordings shown, however. There were dash cam recordings made before and after the killing, including one from Slager's police cruiser. and the defense and prosecution will likely argue over what those tapes reveal as well.
Q. Where has Slager been since his arrest?
A. Initially, he was held at the Charleston County Detention Center in a special cell in the jail, away from the general population. However, in January, Slager posted a $500,000 surety bond.
The conditions of his bond stated that he would not leave the state of South Carolina pending the trial and that he would be on house arrest. The only exceptions were for doctors’ visits, court appearances, meetings with his attorneys, and attending church. It also reads that he cannot contact the victim’s family.
WLTX will have continuing coverage of the trial both on-air and online.