CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters/AFP) - The police in the United States state of South Carolina charged an officer on Tuesday with murder after a video showed him apparently gunning down a fleeing black man, the latest in a string of shootings of unarmed black men that have raised allegations of police racism.
South Carolina state police arrested officer Michael Slager and charged him with murder, a felony that carries a sentence of up to life in prison or the death penalty, according to a news release. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Justice Department annouced a separate probe into the case.
A video of the incident last Saturday showing North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott was viewed by state investigators, and a decision was made to charge Slager with murder, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said at a news conference. "When you're wrong, you're wrong," Mr Summey told reporters. "If you make a bad decision, I don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision."
The incident began after Mr Scott was pulled over for a broken taillight, local media reported. A video of the encounter published by the New York Times shows a brief scuffle between Slager and Mr Scott before the latter begins running away.
The video, which appears to be recorded by a bystander, then shows the officer firing several shots at Mr Scott, who falls to the ground. Mr Scott does not appear to be armed while fleeing from Slager.
With the victim lying face down on the ground, Slager approaches him and puts him in handcuffs, the video shows. The officer then walks several paces back to where he opened fire, before returning to Scott and appearing to drop an object next to him on the ground, it shows.Mr Chris Stewart, an attorney for Mr Scott’s family, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The incident comes at a time of tension over the deadly use of force by US police, particularly by white police officers against black men, including Michael Brown, 18, who was shot and killed by a white police officer last year in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking nationwide protests.
Social media sites such as Twitter were a frenzy of reaction, mostly by people commenting that without the video, no action might have been taken against the police officer. “I guarantee if there was no video, the evidence would have automatically matched cops' versions,” one person tweeted.Added another: “Imagine how many times throughout history they got away with murder because there wasn’t a camera.”North Charleston is a community of about 100,000 residents, nearly half of whom are black, according to 2010 US Census data. It is far more diverse than South Carolina at large, where blacks made up just 28 per cent of the 2010 population.
The federal probe will be handled by the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the South Carolina US Attorney’s Office together with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department said.