CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A South Carolina prosecutor accused a white former police officer on Thursday of staging a crime scene where he had just shot dead an unarmed black motorist, by moving a Taser closer to the handcuffed dead body so he could claim the victim had taken the stun gun.Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, 34, is on trial for murder over the shooting death of Walter Scott, 50. Slager shot Scott five times in the back as Scott fled from the 2015 traffic stop for a broken tail light.
The shooting, captured on a bystander’s cellphone video, intensified a national debate over police use of deadly force against black men.Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson told the jury in opening statements that Scott may have grabbed Slager’s Taser as it was pressed against his body during a struggle, but Slager had attempted to make the scene look as if Scott had possession of the weapon as he fled.
“He said Walter Scott came after him with the Taser and he shot him when he turned. He said, ‘He ran away with my Taser,’” Wilson said, jabbing her finger at Slager.
In reality, the Taser had fallen to the ground further away, she said.
Slager’s “first instinct after he cuffed the dead Walter Scott was to stage the scene,” Wilson said. “He runs back and gets that Taser ... He walked over to a dead Walter Scott and threw it down right beside him.”
Prosecutors contend Scott fled because he was behind on child support payments and feared a routine check would result in his arrest.
Slager’s lead defense attorney, Andrew Savage, countered by shifting blame to Scott for failing to follow the officer’s instructions. He did not address the claim about moving the Taser.
“Why did he choose not to respect the request to stay where he was?” Savage said. “That’s something I hope you consider when you evaluate the evidence in this case. He didn’t just run. He physically and forcefully resisted to the extent that they were both fighting on the ground.”
Nothing in dash-camera video footage from the stop showed Slager had any animus, or racial animus, toward Scott, said Savage, adding his client had no way of knowing Scott was unarmed.
“How would he know he was unarmed?” Savage said. “He never had a chance to pat him down.”
Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by; Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn