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White South Carolina Police Officer Charged in Black Man's Death

  • Reuters

North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager is seen in an undated photo released by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office in Charleston Heights, South Carolina.

North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager is seen in an undated photo released by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office in Charleston Heights, South Carolina.

A white South Carolina police officer was charged with murder Tuesday after a video showed him shooting eight times at the back of a 50-year-old black man who was running away.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said state investigators decided to charge Officer Michael Slager, 33, in the death of Walter Scott after they viewed the video of the incident, which followed a traffic stop Saturday morning.

The FBI and U.S. Justice Department have begun a separate investigation.

"When you're wrong, you're wrong,'' 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 Scott was pulled over for a broken brake light, police said.

A video of the encounter published by The New York Times shows a brief scuffle between Slager and Scott before the latter begins running away. The video, apparently recorded by a bystander, shows the officer shooting at Scott as he runs away. Scott then slumps facedown onto the grass.

A police incident report said Slager, who joined the department in 2009, told other officers Scott had taken his stun gun. In the video, Scott does not appear to be armed while fleeing from Slager.

With the victim lying 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.

Chris Stewart, an attorney for Scott's family, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tension over the deadly use of force by U.S. 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 carried 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 U.S. Census data. It is far more diverse than South Carolina at large, where blacks made up just 28 percent of the 2010 population.

In a separate case in South Carolina, a white police officer who shot a 68-year-old black man to death last year in his driveway was charged Tuesday with discharging a gun into an occupied vehicle, a felony. A prosecutor had previously tried to indict North Augusta Officer Justin Craven on a manslaughter charge in the February 2014 death of Ernest Satterwhite. But a grand jury instead chose misconduct in office, a far lesser charge.

Craven chased Satterwhite for 15 kilometers (9.6 miles) beyond city limits to the man's driveway in Edgefield County. After Satterwhite parked, the officer repeatedly fired through the driver-side door, prosecutors said.

The 25-year-old officer faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the gun charge.

Some information for this report came from AP.

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