The police officer charged with murder for shooting a fleeing man in the back in North Charleston, S.C., twice told another police officer shortly after the April 4 incident that he didn’t understand why the man fled after a seemingly routine traffic stop.
Former Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager also laughed briefly as he told the officer that his adrenaline was still pumping after the shooting, according to a police dashboard video taken after the incident.
Audio of Slager’s comments was captured by cameras mounted on the officer’s police vehicle near the shooting scene. The soundtrack is part of a video, more than an hour long, released via DVD last week by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, according to a spokesman for the agency.
The microphone worn on Slager’s uniform captures a cellphone conversation by the officer, according to an account published in the Post and Courier of Charleston and portions of the audio posted online.
"Everything’s OK, OK?," Slager says into the phone. "I just shot somebody."
"He grabbed my Taser, yeah," Slager adds, referring to his police-issued stun gun. "I’m fine."
Moments later, Slager tells the officer that he had spoken to his wife, Jamie, according to the audio. Jamie Slager, 34, is pregnant with the couple’s first child together.
Slager, 33, reported to a dispatcher moments after shooting Walter L. Scott, 50, a forklift driver, that Scott had taken the Taser. But a video taken by a bystander shows that as Scott lay dying, the officer hurries away to pick up what appears to be the Taser from where he and Scott had struggled nearby. He then walks back and drops the object next to Scott’s body, the video shows.
Slager fired eight times at Scott as he ran. Scott was struck in the back by four rounds. A fifth round grazed his ear. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
On the police dashboard audio, the other police officer tells Slager that SLED, which is in charge of the investigation, "is not going to ask you any kind of questions today," but will wait a couple of days. "Once they get here, it will be real quick," the officer adds.
The officer also tells Slager that his police handgun will be confiscated.
Asked about investigative procedures in police-involved shootings, Thom Berry, a SLED spokesman, replied, "Each incident is separate and unique, and we approach each one separately."
Berry said all officers who responded to the incident are being interviewed by SLED.
The case is the latest in a series of shootings of unarmed black suspects by white police officers nationwide. It has prompted anger and recriminations in North Charleston, which is 47% black. The handful of public protests locally have been nonviolent.
Civil rights activists and residents contend that police have racially profiled black motorists for years, stopping them for minor or nonexistent violations. Slager told Scott he had stopped him for a broken brake light.
A Charleston prosecutor charged Slager with murder April 7 after the bystander video was provided to authorities. Slager was fired and arrested. He remains in jail in Charleston.
In the dash-cam audio, Slager tells the other officer, "I don’t understand why he took off like that. ... I don’t understand why he’d run.’"
Authorities had issued a warrant for Scott, who owed $18,104 in child support. His brother, Anthony Scott, said Walter often told him he was afraid of being stopped by police because of the warrant. Walter Scott had been jailed three times since 2008, including for nonpayment of child support.
On the audio, the other officer tells Slager, "By the time you get home, it will probably be a good idea to jot down your thoughts . . . what happened. The adrenaline gets pumping and stuff."
"It’s pumping," Slager replies, laughing.
"Oh, yeah," the officer says. "Oh, yeah."
The prosecutor in the case, Solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson, said Monday that Slager will not face the death penalty "because there are no statutory 'aggravating circumstances’ present."
In a statement, Wilson said the case will not be presented to the Charleston grand jury before May 4, when the jurors next meet. She said she does not expect to receive the investigative file from SLED "for many days and even weeks."
Any indictments will be presented to the grand jury after the prosecutor’s office has had time to review the case, Wilson said. She added that Slager’s lawyer has not submitted a request for bond.
Slager now faces 30 years to life if convicted.
Zucchino reported from Durham, N.C., Mai-Duc from Los Angeles.