Walter Scott Shooting Seen as Opening for Civil Suits Against North Charleston’s Police Dept

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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — After Julius G. Wilson was stunned with a Taser in August, he and his lawyers considered filing a complaint against the officer who discharged it, Michael T. Slager. For months, though, they did not act.
But after Mr. Slager was charged last week with murder in the April 4 shooting death of Walter L. Scott, an unarmed black man, Mr. Wilson and his lawyers began to reconsider their approach. On Friday, they filed a lawsuit in a South Carolina court against Mr. Slager and the city of North Charleston.

“In light of all of the recent events, we thought it important that we relook at the dash-cam video that we had,” Nicholas J. Clekis, one of Mr. Wilson’s lawyers, said on Monday. “And the fact that this was not an isolated event for Officer Slager, we decided that we would go ahead and file this lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Wilson and everybody else in the community that may have been affected by this kind of behavior from the officers.”

In a separate development on Monday, the prosecutor considering the murder case against Mr. Slager, who was fired from the Police Department after his arrest, said that she did not expect to pursue the death penalty if the former officer was indicted. “Based on the facts revealed thus far, it does not appear that South Carolina’s death penalty provision applies in this case because there are no statutory ‘aggravating circumstances’ present,” the prosecutor, Scarlett A. Wilson, said in a statement.

Any indictment is weeks away. But North Charleston, a city of about 104,000 people, is soon expected to face other lawsuits involving Mr. Slager’s actions as a police officer, including one from Mr. Scott’s family.

Another resident, Mario Givens, who filed a complaint in 2013 after Mr. Slager used a Taser against him at his home, has also said he will file suit. The Police Department investigated Mr. Givens’s complaint at the time and cleared Mr. Slager of wrongdoing.

In addition to Mr. Slager and the city, Mr. Wilson’s lawsuit names the Police Department, its chief and two other officers. Mr. Slager, however, is an evident focus.

Mr. Wilson was arrested after a police officer stopped him for a broken taillight and found that he was driving with a suspended license. He told reporters on Monday that he refused to leave the Mercedes-Benz he had been driving. He said that Officer Brad Woods sought his cooperation, but that he refused because the officers would not tell him why he was being arrested.

A police dashboard video shows Mr. Slager and Officer Woods pulling Mr. Wilson from his vehicle before another officer joined the scuffle and helped wrestle Mr. Wilson to the ground. Mr. Slager can soon be heard saying, “I’m going to tase.”

Lawyers for Mr. Wilson, who pleaded guilty to resisting arrest for his conduct during the episode, denied that he had been a threat to the officers. But in a report last year, Mr. Slager wrote that Mr. Wilson had “continued to resist and refused to put his hands behind his back.” A police spokesman on Monday declined to comment.

It remains unclear how many more lawsuits may eventually be filed. Experts said high-profile allegations of officer misconduct do not always generate new complaints about an officer. But, they said, Mr. Slager’s case may be an exception because the shooting of Mr. Scott was recorded on an amateur video that has been widely seen.

Mr. Slager’s recollections of the shooting of Mr. Scott have also emerged with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s gradual release of video recordings. “He grabbed my Taser, yeah,” Mr. Slager said during a telephone call picked up on a police video recording, The Associated Press reported. “He was running from me.”

The A.P. also said that one of Mr. Slager’s supervisors recommended that he quickly document his memory of “what happened — the adrenaline is just pumping.”

Mr. Slager replied, before the men laughed, “It’s pumping.”

But Mr. Slager also appeared to reflect on the shooting, which happened after Mr. Scott fled from a traffic stop, and said, “I don’t understand why he’d run.”

By |2015-04-15T15:58:54+00:00April 15th, 2015|Civil Rights, Crime in the News, Legal Blog|Comments Off on Walter Scott Shooting Seen as Opening for Civil Suits Against North Charleston’s Police Dept