A former North Augusta police officer will avoid prison after pleading guilty Monday to a charge connected with the fatal February 2014 shooting of a drunk, unarmed man following a car chase.
Former Public Safety Officer Justin Craven pleaded guilty to official misconduct in office and was sentenced to three years probation and 80 hours of community service, according to the Aiken Standard. A previous count of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle was dropped under the guilty plea. Craven could have been facing up to ten years in prison under that charge.
Craven fired into the car of 68-year-old Ernest Satterwhite, Sr., after Satterwhite pulled into a driveway following a 13-mile chase. Craven had tried to initiate a traffic stop on Satterwhite, but the other car led him on a pursuit that began in North Augusta and ended on a dirt road in Edgefield County. Dashboard camera footage revealed for the first time in Monday’s hearing showed Satterwhite striking several mailboxes and running at least four red lights.
The video showed the chase continuing until Satterwhite’s car came to a rolling stop in front of a mobile home. Craven is seen running up to the driver’s side window with his gun drawn, reaching inside the car at one point. In the video, Craven can be seen pulling the weapon back as a hand reaches to push his arm away. The officer sticks his gun back through the window one last time before jerking it out again and firing multiple shots.
The amount of time that elapses between Craven first appearing in frame next to the car door and the officer firing the shots is just four seconds. There is no audio in the video. Craven is white, Satterwhite was black.
A later toxicology report by the Edgefield County Coroner’s Office noted Satterwhite’s blood-alcohol level was .159, more than twice the state’s legal limit.
Craven’s attorney Jack Swerling said his client was in fear of his life for that brief moment and previously had a spotless record. “He had to make a split-second decision instead of like now, when everyone gets all the time they want to analyze it,” Swerling told the Associated Press. Swerling said Craven made a mistake in charging at the stopped car immediately after the chase ended, but that he had no idea whether the other driver was armed.
Investigators said no weapon was found inside Satterwhite’s car. His surviving family later reached a $1.2 million settlement with the city of North Augusta. An Edgefield County grand jury indicted Craven 13 months later in March 2015.
Circuit Judge Frank Addy sentenced Craven. The Standard reported Judge Addy indicated he did not consider the shooting justified, but could understand why Craven thought he was in danger.
The shooting sparked a two-year legal battle between The Standard and other media outlets against the State Law Enforcement Division, which investigated the incident. Media outlets had sent open records requests for the video, but SLED rebuffed them with the argument it would hurt their investigation. The video had not been made public until Monday’s hearing.