South Carolina cop charged in shooting is 'wonderful person,' mother says

'This whole situation ... It can't get any worse, I hope,' says mother of former officer charged with murder

Karen Sharpe on Friday visited her son, Michael, under circumstances no mother would ever want to endure.

She saw Michael T. Slager, a former police officer charged with murder, from behind a glass prison partition. He wore a black-and-white striped prison uniform. He tried to smile for her and asked for photos of his family.

Sharpe pressed her hand against the partition, directly across from her son's hand. It was as close to him as permitted in Sharpe's first face-to face meeting since he was charged with shooting a man in North Charleston, S.C., after a traffic stop Saturday.

"He looked so tired and so worn," Sharpe said after the visit at the Charleston County Detention Center.

Ever since Slager, 33, fired eight shots into the back of Walter L. Scott, a 50-year-old distribution company worker, the lives of both families have been devastated.

Walter Scott Sr. and his wife, Judy, lost a son. In a way, Karen Sharpe has lost hers too.

"There is pain for both families," Sharpe said. "I wouldn't want anybody to go through this."

Sharpe has had no contact with the Scott family. She has made a point of not watching or reading the news. But she said she wants the Scotts to know that she is praying for them.

"I know how I feel," she said. "How can his mother feel? I think about them constantly. I pray for them. I'm so sorry for their loss."

Told that the Scott family is praying for her family, Sharpe choked back tears. She said she had worried about how they would view her family.

"This whole situation," she said. She couldn't finish her thought. She tried to smile. "It can't get any worse, I hope."

She said she has not watched the video of her son shooting Scott. She doesn't intend to.

Michael's wife, Jamie, 34, told her about the video on Tuesday, when she called Sharpe at her Florida home to tell her Michael had been arrested. The couple are expecting their first child together in May.

"I don't want people to think I'm naive, but I don't want to watch it," Sharpe said of the video. "I don't think I could."

She worries about her daughter-in-law and about Michael's young son and stepdaughter, Jamie's children from a previous marriage.

"Jamie is just so stressed," she said. "It's like she's facing a wall."

She said Jamie Slager saw her husband in person for the first time since the shooting Friday, accompanying her mother-in-law on the prison visit.

Sharpe said she can't reconcile the loving, caring son and father she knows with the violent crime he is accused of committing.

"This is not Michael," she said. "He's not a person who snaps at people or makes snap decisions. He's a wonderful person, a wonderful son, such a good father."

Slager grew up in Alaska, Virginia and New Jersey, the son of a military man who was divorced from Sharpe when Slager was in high school. He later joined the Coast Guard.

Slager served six years from 2003 to 2009, mostly in Florida, where he worked with the local sheriff's department in search and seizure operations.

That drew him to law enforcement, his mother said, and he attended the police academy in Charleston after a friend suggested he move to the area.

Slager joined the North Charleston police force more than five years ago. His personnel file shows that, except for a 2013 excessive force allegation for which he was later cleared, he earned positive marks during firearms qualifications and was praised by a training officer after one of his first nights on patrol.

In March 2010, the officer lauded Slager for his handling of a potentially dangerous drug arrest.

"Officer Slager demonstrated great officer safety tactics when we encountered three individuals, one being armed with a handgun and narcotics. He kept calm through the situation, controlled suspect and he was apprehended," the report read.

Slager, who was trained in first aid and CPR, also received a perfect score during training on the use of a Taser, or stun gun, the weapon that apparently failed to stop Scott shortly before the fatal shooting.

In the shooting incident, the video shows Slager jogging to pick up his Taser moments after shooting Scott, and then is seen dropping the object next to Scott's body.

Civil rights activists alleged Slager was planting evidence to make it appear that Scott had taken the weapon.

The excessive force allegation stemmed from a 2013 complaint by a suspect, Mario Givens, that he was "tased for no reason" and slammed to the ground by Slager. Givens said Slager mistook him for Givens' brother, the object of a police search.

A lawyer for Givens said Thursday that he intended to sue the city.

John Blackmon, president of the Tri-County Fraternal Order of Police in North Charleston, said Saturday's shooting has rankled cops who have watched unrest unfold in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Cleveland, and now fear their city will be caught up in the rising tide of mistrust aimed at police nationwide.

"Our organization is concerned. We're starting to see people painting the law enforcement profession with broad strokes," Blackmon said. "It's very disheartening to see people stooping to this level."

Slager is not a member of the union, but Blackmon, a retired police officer from Hanahan, said he's spoken with several North Charleston police who are upset with Slager's actions and what he described as a negative atmosphere fostered by the protests.

"They're angry at the officer. They're angry at the protests. They're angry at the situation at hand," Blackmon said, "They're concerned that their safety is going to be in jeopardy."

A prosecutor in Charleston said Friday that she planned to take Slager's case before a grand jury as early as May 4.

Sharpe said her son has received strong support from friends on the North Charleston police force. His sisters, 25, and 31, have traveled to see him, improving his spirits, his mother said.

When she first learned of Scott's death, she said, she thought of families devastated by another shooting death: of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson last year.

"If people only knew that in an instant your life can change," Sharpe said, "and it will never go back the way it was."

Sharpe said she worried about her son every day because of the inherent dangers of police work. He loved his job, she said. They spoke about it often, she said, "but we never talked about the bad side."

Every time they spoke, she said, she offered a little prayer for him and told him, "Be safe."

Her son always assured her: "I am. I am."

Zucchino reported from Charleston and Queally from Los Angeles.

Twitter: @davidzucchino

Twitter: @JamesQueallyLAT

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times