Former North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager spoke at his own trial Tuesday about why he feared for his life and shot Walter Scott, but admitted “things could have been different” looking back at the case 18 months later.
Scott’s shooting got national attention after a bystander’s video of Slager shooting Scott in the back as he fled went viral and led to a murder charge against the officer. However, Slager insists the video starts after he and Scott had been “fighting” on the ground.
Slager said he felt “total fear” when Scott got control of his Taser and pointed it at the officer. That led him to pull out his own weapon and start shooting to “neutralize” the threat, even though the video shows Scott running to get away at that point.
“I was tired. I ran the 200 yards (while chasing Scott). I was in a fight on the ground. Mr. Scott was coming after me with the Taser twice,” Slager said on the stand Tuesday. “My mind… my mind was like spaghetti.”
He said he fired the Taser three times at Scott and used the emptied weapon to create a “dry stun” on Scott’s skin when the other man continued to struggle. Slager said he tried to hold Scott down with his elbow and Taser in one hand, while trying to radio for backup with his other arm. He said Scott grabbed the Taser at that point and pointed it at him.
During cross-examination, prosecutors pressed Slager on why he viewed the unarmed, fleeing Scott as a threat. Deputy Solicitor Bruce DuRant noted the officer did not previously mention the same details of the fight during interviews with his superiors and state police. DuRant also questioned if Slager noticed the Taser had fallen to the ground before Scott started running, as the bystander video shows.
“At the time on April 4, I would say no. But after watching the video, I would say yes,” Slager said, adding that he did not see the Taser until after firing at Scott.
Prosecutors with the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office also accused Slager of changing his story since the initial North Charleston Police investigation. DuRant challenged the former officer’s repeated answers about not remembering why the Taser dropped to the ground or Scott being “on top” of him. “Seems like you’re just not remembering the things that are bad for you,” DuRant replied.
The prosecution has speculated that Scott ran from the stop because he was late with child support payments and may have feared going to jail. Slager said Scott’s actions struck him as suspicious at the time. “People don’t run for a broken taillight. There’s always another reason,” he said he recalled thinking at the time.
When asked if he still thinks he made good decisions in the incident, Slager said. “With all the facts and information I had at that time: yes,” Then going back 18 months later and looking at everything, things could have been different.”
Jurors are expected to begin considering the case by the end of this week, although that could change depending on the defense’s remaining witnesses and closing arguments.