It started out as a routine, discretionary traffic stop.
A rear brake light was out on the old car and the driver, fearing arrest for unpaid child support, didn’t wait around as the officer went to run his name and plates. What happened next captured national headlines and stunned the nation.
Minutes later, 50-year-old Walter Scott was dead—shot five times in the back by a North Charleston, S.C., police officer. When initially questioned by department supervisors, patrolman Michael Slager claimed he feared for his life. Days later, a cellphone video taken by a witness emerged and his story fell apart. Scott was unarmed and maybe 15 yards away, just beyond an old tree, when the first dry popping sound rang out. Officer Slager, standing calmly on the path, let off at least seven shots.
One round pierced Scott’s back and traveled through his heart, likely killing him instantly. “Put your hands behind your back!” Slager is heard demanding on the tape. He bends down and handcuffs the dead man.
Slager has been indicted on murder charges and is being held without bail in protective custody.
The trial is months away. However, city officials have reached an out-of-court settlement with the Scott family and agreed to pay a reported $6.5 million.
“It’s historic,” said Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Scott family told The Washington Post on Thursday evening. “It sets a good precedent for a city not tolerating this sort of behavior from police officers.”
Scott, a Coast Guard veteran, was eulogized before a capacity crowd of mourners that included Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. James Clyburn. Hundreds waited outside in the rain to glimpse the casket being ferried in and out of the church.
Scott’s death was one of several high-profile cases of unarmed black men killed by police officers. His death and others sparked protests in cities across the country, fueling the Black Lives Matter movement. In the Scott case, prosecutors moved swiftly to secure an indictment.
If convicted, the officer faces 30 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His defense attorney, Andy Savage, promised a rigorous test of the evidence.
“This is a small victory,” Anthony Scott, the victim’s brother, told the Post. “And as long as we win the war, and get a conviction for murder, we will be pleased and feel like we got justice.”