The chief of South Carolina’s state police agency said late Thursday that its agents suspected criminal wrongdoing by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager before the video emerged showing Slager killing Walter L. Scott by shooting him in the back on Saturday.
Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Agency, said in a news release that Slager was charged with murder Monday afternoon after he was interviewed in the office of his then-lawyer. Lawyers for Scott’s family said the video, taken by a bystander, was not provided to the agency until late Monday night.
It is not clear whether police officials were aware that the video existed – and what it depicted – before it was delivered to the agency.
After state police investigators arrived at the shooting scene in a vacant lot in North Charleston on Saturday, they encountered “inconsistencies including what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds in Mr. Scott’s back,” Keel said in the release.
“We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in that encounter,” Keel said. “The cellphone video shot by a bystander confirmed our initial suspicions."
Keel said investigators have interviewed Slager and officers who responded to the incident.
He thanked Feidin Santana, who took the cellphone video, for handing it over rather than erasing it.
“I appreciate that Feidin Santana was worried about his safety and whether he could trust the police after what he saw and captured on his cellphone,” Keel said. “We are eager to discuss the incident with him.”
As the investigation proceeds, Keel said, the agency will guard against “the premature release of specific details” that could hamper the investigation and prosecution.
“I understand many people still have questions, and so do we,” Keel said.