Should S.C. officer who shot Walter Scott in back be released on bail?

Attorneys for Michael Slager, a former police officer in North Charleston, S.C., who has been charged with killing an unarmed black man, say the defendant poses no flight risk. Some observers worry that his release could spark civil unrest.

Grace Beahm/The Post and Courier/AP
Walter Scott's family, left to right, sister-in-law Denise Scott, son Anthony Scott, mother Judy Scott, and father Walter Scott Sr., gather with attorneys for Scott’s family, outside the Charleston County Courthouse on June 8, after a Charleston County grand jury handed down an indictment for murder against North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager in the April 4 shooting death of Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C.

Lawyers for a white former police officer who was caught on camera fatally shooting unarmed Walter Scott as he was fleeing a traffic stop, are expected to argue in court on Thursday that he should be released from jail before his trial because he does not pose a threat to the public.

Attorneys for Michael Slager, the former North Charleston, S.C., police officer who has been charged with the murder of Mr. Scott, will present a psychological assessment conducted ahead of the hearing that says he poses little danger of violence.

The assessment, conducted by Charleston-area psychologist Leonard Mulbry Jr., concluded that Mr. Slager was mentally stable and is “at very low risk of future violence.”

In deciding whether to release a defendant on bond, a judge generally weighs suspect’s likelihood of fleeing or reoffending, but the presence of video evidence in this case makes it unique, said Joe Savitz, a criminal defense attorney in Columbia.

"In a case like this, you have got the video tape, which regardless of what he says about what the tape really shows, shows him shooting a man repeatedly in the back," Savitz told the Associated Press, referring to a bystander's cellphone video that captured Slager firing eight times as Scott ran away.

"It would take a very courageous judge to let him out under the circumstances. If the judge lets him out, and Charleston just goes up in flames, they're going to blame the judge. No judge wants to be responsible for additional violence."

Scott was killed on April 4, after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. The cell phone video showed an altercation with Slager, then the father-of-four fleeing on foot, after which the former officer pulled his weapon out and began firing repeatedly.

The death of Scott, and its capture on video, has added to the national discourse on law enforcement accountability and has led police departments around the country to order body cameras for their officers.

In the wake of Scott’s shooting his family has called for peace, asking the community to let the criminal justice system run its course. Some have said that this, along with the officer’s speedy arrest, has led to relative calm in Charleston, as opposed to the massive protests and violence that have erupted in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and other cities where unarmed black men have died from police action.

Community leaders say, however, that if Slager is released it may spark similar action in Charleston.

"We cannot continue to give grace, we cannot continue to be forgiving, unless we see that the other side of the fence is willing to work along with us, to see things our way," Thomas Dixon of People United Take Back Our Community said at a news conference Wednesday in front of the jail where Slager is being held. "In the event that there is no grace, I guarantee you, the days of grace in Charleston soon will expire. What's beyond that, I'm not sure."

Since his arrest, Slager has been held in solitary confinement. If convicted of murder he faces 30 years to life in prison. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson has said since there were no aggravating factors, the death penalty did not come into play during the case.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.