The white former North Charleston, S.C., police officer charged with the murder of an unarmed black motorist during a traffic stop took the stand in his own defense Tuesday, according to the Post and Courier.
As previously reported on The Root, Michael Slager, 35, is on trial for the April 2015 shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott. Scott was running from a traffic stop in North Charleston when Slager shot him five times in the back. In addition to the state murder charge, Slager faces three federal charges, including a civil rights violation.
Court began Tuesday morning with Judge Clifton Newman advising Slager about his right to testify. When asked if he wished to testify, Slager said, “I do.”
Slager testified that he stopped Scott for a broken taillight and told the jury what he was thinking when Scott ran.
“Mr. Scott must have been running for a certain reason,” Slager said.
Slager said that when Scott went down the first time, he thought he had hit him with the Taser, and he thought “everything was going to be good” when he approached Scott to handcuff him, but Scott started fighting back and eventually grabbed his stun gun.
“I saw that Taser coming at me, and I knew I was in trouble,” Slager said. “I knew I was overpowered.”
The cross-examination by Deputy Solicitor Bruce DuRant included a showing of the bystander video that led to Slager’s arrest for Scott’s murder. DuRant went through the video step-by-step, asking Slager questions along the way about the encounter with Scott.
When Slager had problems remembering details, DuRant pointed out that Slager had a clear recollection of that day except for facts that were bad for him.
DuRant then told Slager that Scott never at any point had a tactical advantage over him.
“You described it as him wiggling, trying to get away,” DuRant said.
“Correct, he was,” Slager said.
Slager testified that he was “in total fear” that Scott didn’t stop and continued to come toward him, so he pulled his firearm from its holster and pulled the trigger. When asked how many time he fired his weapon, he wept.
“I don’t know, Slager said. “I fired until the threat was stopped, like I am trained to do.”
DuRant had Slager come out of the witness box and stretched a measuring tape 18 feet out to show the distance that was between Slager and Scott when the first gunshot was fired. Slager said he had a “different perception” of the distance.
“That decision was made when Mr. Scott was 27 inches away, toe-to-toe,” Slager said. “At that point, I made the decision to use lethal force. He was still dangerous.”
Slager said that he doesn’t know why he picked his Taser up and dropped it by Scott’s body after shooting him. He said his mind was “like spaghetti.”
The prosecution had Slager read the North Charleston Police Department’s policy that allows lethal force to be used against a “fleeing felon” only if they pose “an immediate threat to human life.”
“Protection of life must take priority over apprehension of criminals,” Slager read.
The defense rested its case Tuesday, and closing arguments could begin Wednesday. The judge is also considering whether to include a voluntary manslaughter charge for the jury’s consideration.
Read more at the Post and Courier.