ABOVE PHOTO: In this April 4, 2015, frame from video provided by Attorney L. Chris Stewart representing the family of Walter Lamer Scott, Scott appears to be running away from City Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager, right, in North Charleston, S.C. Slager was charged with murder Tuesday, hours after law enforcement officials viewed the dramatic video that appears to show Slager shooting a fleeing Scott several times in the back. (AP Photo/Courtesy of L. Chris Stewart)
By Bruce Smith and Jeffrey Collins
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dramatic video that shows a white South Carolina police officer shooting a fleeing black man after a traffic stop has led authorities to file a murder charge against the officer amid public outrage over a series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement agents.
A protest began with about 40 to 50 people Wednesday in North Charleston, led by a group formed after the fatal shooting of another black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
The video, provided to the dead man’s family and lawyer by an unidentified person who shot the footage, shows North Charleston Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager firing eight shots at the back of Walter Lamer Scott as he runs away. The 50-year-old man falls after the eighth shot, fired after a brief pause.
Scott’s parents appeared separately on TV shows Wednesday morning, a day after the officer was charged.
Walter Scott Sr. told the NBC “Today Show” that his son may have run because he owed child support and didn’t want to go back to jail.
Scott Sr. said that in the video, the officer “looked like he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.”
Judy Scott called the video “the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I almost couldn’t look at it to see my son running defenselessly, being shot. It just tore my heart to pieces,” she said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Attorneys for the family said the man who shot the video is assisting investigators. The person has not been identified.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced the charge at a news conference Tuesday. Summy said Slager had made “a bad decision.” Authorities said Scott was shot after the officer had already hit the man with a stun gun after a traffic stop Saturday that began over a faulty brake light.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey told reporters. “When you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or a citizen on the street, you have to live with that decision.”
Slager, who has been with the North Charleston police for five years, was denied bond at a first appearance hearing Tuesday. He was not accompanied by a lawyer. If convicted, he could face 30 years to life in prison.
The shooting comes amid ongoing public issues of trust between law enforcement and minority communities after such prominent deaths as those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York.
Heightened scrutiny is being placed by Americans on police officer shootings, particularly those that involve white officers and unarmed black suspects. A grand jury declined to indict Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Brown last August, leading to nationwide protests.
A local Black Lives Matter group, formed after Brown’s death, planned a demonstration Wednesday morning at North Charleston City Hall.
About 30 people gathered ahead of the planned protest Wednesday morning.
“We have to take a stand on stuff like this,” said Lance Braye, 23, who helped organize the demonstration. “We can’t just shake our heads at our computer screens.”
Scott’s family and their attorney, L. Chris Stewart, called for calm and peaceful protests. They said the murder charge showed that the justice system is working in this case.
Stewart said the video forced authorities to act quickly and decisively. “What if there was no video? What if there was no witness, or hero as I call him, to come forward?” asked Stewart.
Slager’s then-attorney David Aylor had released a statement Monday saying the officer felt threatened and that Scott was trying to grab Slager’s stun gun. Aylor dropped Slager as a client after the video surfaced.
The footage was also released to news media outlets.
The video shows an interaction between Scott and the officer, with the officer reaching at the man, the two seeming to touch near the hands, before Scott ran and was shot.
The video shows Scott falling after the shots and then the officer slowly walking toward the man and ordering him to put his hands behind his back. When Scott doesn’t move, Slager pulls his arms back and cuffs his hands. Then he walks briskly back to where he fired the shots, picks up an object, and returns the 30 feet or so back to Scott before dropping the object by Scott’s feet, the video shows.
Walter Scott may have tried to run from the officer because he owed child support, which can lead to jail time in South Carolina until it is paid, Stewart said. Scott had four children, was engaged and had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard. There were no violent offenses on his record, the attorney said. Stewart said the family plans to sue the police department.
Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said the Federal Bureau of Investigation also will investigate.
North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city. For years, it battled an economic slump caused by the mid-1990s closing of the Charleston Naval Base on the city’s waterfront. The city has bounced back since, largely because of a huge investment by Boeing, which has a 787 aircraft manufacturing plant in the city and employs about 7,500 people in South Carolina, most in North Charleston.
The city’s population was about 47 percent black in 2010, according to census figures from 2010 – the most recent data that breaks out population by race.