Excessive Force

‘Taser Town’ And The Shots Heard ‘Round The World’

Police in the South Carolina town where an officer shot and killed an unarmed man were apparently Taser-crazy, according to several lawsuits against the local PD.

04.08.15 7:45 PM ET

Welcome to Taser Town.

Until the eight shots heard ’round the world, cops in North Charleston, South Carolina, were primarily distinguished by their zesty use of Tasers.

As computed by a local newspaper in 2006, cops there used Tasers 201 times in an 18-month period, averaging once every 40 hours in one six-month stretch and disproportionately upon African Americans.

The Charleston Post & Courier did the tally after the death of a mentally ill man named Kip Black, who was tasered six times on one occasion and nine times on another. Black died immediately after the second jolting, though the coroner set the cause of death as cocaine-fueled “excited delirium syndrome.”

North Charleston remained Taser Town in 2008, when Officer Christopher Terry pulled over a decorated Army sergeant named Brian Yates, who was between deployments and on his way to pick up a daughter who had taken ill.

According to a pending lawsuit, Terry was in the midst of arresting a compliant Yates for an unspecified traffic violation when the soldier’s mother and brother drove up.

“As they approached Sgt. Yates and Officer Terry, the officer deployed his Taser into Sgt. Yates’ back and Sgt. Yates fell to the ground,” the complaint alleges. “As he lay on the ground, Sgt. Yates attempted to console his family and told them they should return to their vehicle.”

The complaint continues, “Despite the fact that Sgt. Yates was still lying on the ground and at no point attempted to stand up, Officer Terry tasered him a second time as Sgt. Yates spoke to his mother and brother.”

The complaint adds, “When Sgt. Yates’ mother saw Officer Terry taser her son a second time, she screamed and fainted, hitting her head when she fell to the ground. Without attempting to stand, Sgt. Yates asked if he could assist his mother and he was tasered a third time.”

Another Taser incident came in September of 2013, when Police Officer Michael Slager jolted a man named Mario Givens as Givens was led from his home in his underwear. A witness, Yolanda Whitaker, contended that Givens had done nothing to provoke the tasing and Slager was investigated for use of excessive force. The complaint was deemed unfounded.

On Saturday morning, Slager seems to have used his Taser again, this time after pulling over 50-year-old Walter Scott for having a broken taillight. Slager determined that Scott had an open warrant for failure to pay child support and moved to arrest him.

Scott was apparently determined not to spend Easter in jail and reportedly attempted to flee. Slager gave chase and is presumed to have used his Taser.

The device did not seem to have had the desired immobilizing effect. Scott continued to flee.

And then came a moment that suggests one of the dangers of using Tasers. Slager had already escalated from attempting to grab Scott the old-fashioned way. He was not likely to deescalate in the heat of the moment.

He instead escalated further by reaching for the other, far deadlier device he carried on his gun belt.

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As smoothly as if he were on a firing range, Slager drew his automatic pistol, aimed and curled his finger around the trigger just as he would with a Taser.

Slager fired eight times at Scott, who was running away with a Taser barb still in his flesh. Scott constituted no possible danger to the officer or anyone else.

Slager stopped when Scott went down, the bullets having had the intended effect.

Immediately after firing the last shot, Slager looked to his left at a person who did constitute a threat of another kind to him.

That person was Feiden Santana. He would later tell NBC News that he had been on his way to his job when he saw Slager chasing Scott. Santana said he saw the two men struggle and go down on the ground. The cop seemed to get control of the situation.

Feiden had then heard the distinct crackle of a Taser. He watched Scott scramble away and flee.

“Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser,” Santana told NBC. “I believe he (was) just trying to get away from the Taser.”

Santana had by then begun using his cellphone to make a video. His hand stayed remarkably steady as the crackle of the Taser was followed by gunshots. Santana remained steadiness itself as Slager called for the dying Scott to place his hands behind his back.

Slager got on his radio to notify the Taser Town dispatcher.

“Shots fired and the subject is down! He took my Taser!”

The video shows Slager striding up to handcuff Scott and then returning to the vicinity of where he had been when he started firing.

Another officer appears and is crouching beside Scott as Slager returns and drops an object of some kind beside the bleeding man.

Whatever the object was, it was evidence in a shooting.

If it was Slager’s Taser, that would suggest he was trying to plant credence to his radio message of moments before.

What seems clear is Slager’s indifference to this unarmed man he had just shot multiple times in the back. Slager was well-trained in CPR and first aid, but made absolutely no effort to help Scott.

The explanation that immediately suggests itself is that Scott was black. But the other officer is also black, and Slager would no doubt have hurried to help him if he were wounded.

Scott was not just black but a perp, a candidate to be tased with near impunity if he were not cooperative, worse if the tasing did not work.

At one point when the other officer stepped away, Slager knelt to press his fingertips against Scott’s neck and check for a pulse. This may have been less out of concern for Scott than for the complications that would accompany a fatal shooting.

Afterward, Slager insisted that he had fired because he was afraid for his life.

He might have even gotten away with it were it not for the video that the brave young man turned over to Scott’s family and to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Slager was charged with murder on Tuesday.

“Today is a tragic day,” North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers said.


The tragic day was Saturday, when Scott died, having been shot after he had apparently already been tased in Taser Town.

The police did not respond to a request for the department’s latest Taser facts. They likely were too busy with the shooting seen ’round the world.