Walter Scott, shot in the back after police stop, to be buried Saturday
Charleston, South Carolina (CNN)—The casket was draped with an American flag, and Walter Scott dressed in a dark suit for his visitation in Charleston, South Carolina. But his family was missing.
They needed privacy, said Mayor Joseph Riley, who attended the visitation Friday.
On Saturday, Scott’s family will say goodbye in a private funeral and burial.
A week before to the day, a police officer shot him in the back as he fled. He had been pulled over for a broken taillight.
A passerby caught the shooting on cell phone video, and the alleged shooter, Officer Michael Slager, was swiftly charged with murder. He was fired and faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.
The video shows Scott running away from an officer, who fires eight shots. Scott is struck five times; he falls to the ground.
“Nothing in this video demonstrates that the officer’s life or the life of another was threatened,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said. “The question here is whether the use of force was excessive.”
But one witness is speaking of a struggle prior to the shooting. And at least one expert believes a murder charge may not hold up.
On Thursday, witness Gwen Nichols told CNN’s Brian Todd that she saw Scott and Slager scuffling at the entrance to a vacant lot.
“It was like a tussle type of thing, like, you know, like, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘What did I do?’ type of thing,” Nichols said. “I didn’t hear Mr. Slager saying: ‘Stop!’ ”
Nichols’ account has similarities to Slager’s. He had told investigators that he had tussled with Scott over his Taser, and that he feared for his safety.
Criminal defense attorney Paul Callan said he believes Slager’s defense will play up the reported scuffle in arguing that this is not a murder case.
“Defense attorneys will say this was a heat of passion shooting — (that) this was something that he did suddenly after some kind of an altercation, a physical altercation with a suspect,” Callan said. “And that would constitute manslaughter under law, as opposed to murder, and it makes a huge difference in sentencing.”
In South Carolina, a murder conviction requires a measure of premeditation.
A different story
But the account from the witness who recorded the cell phone video, Feidin Santana, paints a different picture.
He was walking to work when he saw Slager on top of Scott, he said, who was on the ground. Santana said he could hear the sound of a Taser in use.
He said he didn’t see Scott go after the Taser, as Slager initially claimed. He said he believes Scott was trying to get away.
“Mr. Scott never tried to fight,” Santana said.
Neither the struggle nor the use of a Taser was captured on video because Santana started recording shortly after that.
Investigators from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, found troubling inconsistencies from the very start, the said in a statement.
“We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in that encounter,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement. “The cell phone video shot by a bystander confirmed our initial suspicions.”
Slager’s lawyer, Andy Savage, has complained that he “has not received the cooperation from law enforcement that the media has.”
Savage’s office said in a statement that it has yet to receive “any investigative documents, audio or video tapes, other than a copy of Mr. Slager’s arrest warrant.”
The news release added that the lawyer has been advised that the police union that Slager belongs to “is no longer involved in the case.”
A second video, taken from a police dash cam, has also emerged from the day Scott died. It shows moments prior to the shooting, when things seemed to be going smoothly between Scott and Slager.
Scott apparently tells the officer that he has no insurance on the vehicle, and Slager returns to his car to do paperwork. Then Scott gets out of the car and runs out of the camera’s frame.
Scott was the subject of a bench warrant over $18,104.43 in unpaid child support at the time of the stop, according to court records. That may be why he ran, an attorney for the family said.
On Friday afternoon, police met with a man who was in Scott’s car, but the passenger’s name wasn’t in a police report obtained by CNN. He was detained briefly after the shooting, one officer wrote in the report.
Scott family attorney Chris Stewart said he was a co-worker and friend. But he did not identify him by name.
On Friday, a few mourners trickled into the Fielding Home For Funerals. A white banner with a blue star near his casket displayed his favorite NFL team. It said: “Tradition, the Cowboys way.”
“This is a heartbreaking tragedy for everyone in our community,” Mayor Riley said. “It breaks everyone’s hearts.”