Judge Declares Mistrial In South Carolina Police Shooting Trial

Dec 5, 2016
Originally published on December 5, 2016 6:29 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In South Carolina today, a jury said it could not reach a verdict in the police shooting case of Michael Slager. He's the former North Charleston police officer videotaped shooting Walter Scott from behind as Scott fled following a traffic stop. The footage added to a national debate about policing and race. Slager is white. Scott was black. The judge has declared a mistrial, and the state says it will retry the case even as Slager has a federal trial next year.

We're joined now by Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio, who was in the courtroom today. And Alexandra, describe the reaction in the courtroom as the judge declared this mistrial.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: So the Slager and the Scott family sat on opposite sides of the courtroom on the same bench, and Slager's wife and mother embraced as they were reading the fact that it was going to be a mistrial. Scott's family - some were shaking their heads. Others were embracing. Some were tearing up. When the defense attorney got up to address the jury, a few members of the Scott family got up and left and walked out of the courtroom.

After the judge declared the mistrial, attorneys from both the prosecution and the defense did address the jury. The prosecutor in the case actually got choked up when she was talking to the jurors. But she also asked to meet with them later to gain insight because she's planning to try this case again.

SHAPIRO: And so what does that mean for Michael Slager? What happens next for him?

OLGIN: So right now we know that he also faces federal charges. That trial hasn't been scheduled, but it's expected sometime next year. After the mistrial today, the state does say it plans to retry Slager.

Now, we should point out that on Friday, just a couple days ago, the jury said that it was deadlocked. And there was a note from a juror and indicated that they were deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of a conviction. But today, more jurors began to cast doubt because this morning, they said that the majority were undecided. And then they eventually came back later today and said that they were hopelessly deadlocked, and the judge did declare a mistrial.

Now, Slager has been out on bond for the past few months, and he will remain so until the rest of the legal issues in his case are dealt with.

SHAPIRO: What kind of reaction was there today from Walter Scott's family and attorneys?

OLGIN: They were disappointed and pretty stoic. They didn't seem that mad. They were just saying, you know, this is round one of a long fight for justice. There was a news conference right outside the courthouse just a little bit after the mistrial was declared, and one of the family attorneys, whose name is L. Chris Stewart, said Slager's mistrial is a setback.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

L CHRIS STEWART: Missed opportunity to heal a lot of wounds in this country, missed opportunity to remind the good officers that put on that badge that they aren't Michael Slager.

OLGIN: One of Walter Scott's brothers, Anthony, was asked by a reporter if he felt for the Slager family that they might have to go through this again. And he said, well, you know, Slager gets to spend Christmas and the holidays with his family, but we don't get to see Walter Scott ever again. We have to live with the fact that he was gunned down. We have to watch the video that's replayed of him being shot over and over and over again. He did say, though, he does feel bad for Slager's young son, but for the rest, he doesn't have pity.

SHAPIRO: That video of the shooting is so graphic and, as you say, has been replayed over and over. I think many people believed it might make a difference in this case. It certainly set it apart from other police shooting cases. The trial went on almost five weeks. Do you have a sense of what ultimately did make the difference?

OLGIN: Well, Slager did take the stand. He said he feared for his life and claimed that there was this ground struggle that allegedly happened, but that was off-camera before the bystander started filming. And he claimed that Scott grabbed his Taser and pointed it at the officer.

The bystander who filmed the video also testified. He told - said that he told another officer on the scene that he believed there was a police abuse. But when Slager was asked if he would do anything different, he said next time, if this ever - I mean in hindsight, he would have stayed in the car and called for backup immediately.

SHAPIRO: That's Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio. Thank you.

OLGIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.