Last year’s police killing of an unarmed African American man in the state of South Carolina was not justified even if the officer was provoked, prosecutors have said.
Michael Slager, 34, is accused of killing Walter Scott after a traffic stop in North Charleston in April 2015. Slager, who was later fired from the police force, shot Scott five times in the back as Scott was trying to flee.
The shooting video, captured on a bystander’s cell phone reignited a national debate over police use of deadly force against the people of color.
Prosecutors argue that Scott fled because he was afraid of being arrested for being behind on child support payments. Slager’s lawyers, however, put the blame on Scott himself for failing to follow the officer’s instructions.
Addressing jurors on Thursday at the murder trial of Scott, South Carolina prosecutor Scarlett Wilson acknowledged that Scott’s actions might have provoked Slager to pull out a gun, but the shooting was still unjustified.
“If Walter Scott had not resisted arrest, he wouldn’t have been shot. He paid the extreme consequence for his conduct. He lost his life for his foolishness,” Wilson said. “But we’re here… to bring accountability for [Slager’s] choices, for his decision to go too far… for his decision to shoot an unarmed man in the back five times.”
In June 2015, a South Carolina grand jury indicted Slager for Scott’s murder. He was released on bond in January 2016 and a trial began in October.
Slager was also indicted by the US Justice Department in May 2016 on federal charges, for the violation of Scott’s civil rights and obstruction of justice.
Judge Clifton Newman ruled Thursday that Slager can remain free on bond during his trial.
The use of excessive force by police has become the focus of national debate in America, particularly over high-profile killings of African-Americans by mainly white officers.