Thursday, April 9, 2015

Executed for a Broken Taillight (in 2015?)

The Corporate Justice Blog often takes up issues of wrongheaded carceral policy and the need for  policing reform in the United States.  Ultimately, for us, the issues of discrimination in policing and the perverse incentives inherent in for-profit incarceration are not just social justice issues, but also economic issues and portend a difficult economic road ahead if we as a nation cannot get out in front of these very real  and very old problems.

Take for example the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina.  Before the video became public, the story told by police officer Michael Slager was one of justified killing.  "He took my taser" was his tagline and "I was in fear for my life" would have been the testimony, just as it was for a carefully-coached officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson.  However, here, the video simply cannot support a story of "stolen taser" and "fear for life."  The video shows Officer Slager shooting a slowly running away Walter Scott in the back eight times.  Any reasonable viewing of the video shows a calm and callous Slager not only firing eight times without giving further chase, but then that Slager later picks something up that was at his feet when shooting, carries it to the prone Scott and drops it down next to the body (the taser?).  Officer Slager has been charged with murder.  Video is here.

Friend of the Corporate Justice Blog Law Professor and Vice-Provost Dorothy Brown discusses the events above and deconstructs them for CNN in "Did Cops Learn From Mistakes of Ferguson?" posted earlier today.  Professor Brown writes:

"This time the stage was set in North Charleston, South Carolina, a city of about 100,000 people. Walter Scott was stopped by Officer Michael Slager for a broken taillight, and within minutes Scott was dead. According to the incident report, Slager said: "Shots fired, and the subject is down. He took my Taser." His attorney at the time, David Aylor, said that Slager "felt threatened and reached for his department-issued firearm and fired his weapon."

But then came the video.

We watched in horror as we saw Slager shoot Scott in the back multiple times. Then we saw Slager pick up something from one location and place it near Scott's lifeless body. On Tuesday, the officer was arrested on murder charges. North Charleston police Chief Eddie Driggers told reporters, "I have watched the video, and I was sickened by what I saw." Apparently so was Slager's attorney, who announced after the video was made public that he was no longer representing the officer."

As we argue repeatedly in this blog space, the United States must get it right by reforming carceral policy in this nation and figuring out a different and better way to police our citizens.  We have suggestions . . .


  1. One week after the death of Walter Scott at the hands of a white police officer caught on video, another video has been released of the moment a reserve police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shot and killed a man by mistake. The video is available here:

    The victim was Eric Harris, 44, who was shot in the back “by mistake” after being brought to the ground by police. The 73-year-old reserve officer, Robert Bates, made the mistake of grabbing his gun instead of his taser. Officers then continued to subdue Harris, ignoring his cries for help and that he was losing his breath. Shocking, one officer responded with “fuck your breath.” Harris later died in the hospital, and Bates was charged with second degree manslaughter.

    What is troubling to me about this story is how the officers responded to Harris after he was mistakenly shot. Harris cried out, repeatedly, “He shot me!” and says: “Oh my God, I’m losing my breath.” Instead of saying “fuck your breath,” why aren’t these officers trying to save his life? Indeed, Harris should have never been shot in the first place. But still, officers continued to subdue Harris as if he was going to get away.

    Perhaps the mistake of firing their gun instead of their taser is a common one for police, but the mistake of ignoring desperate cries for help as a gunshot victim by mistake battles for life is not acceptable. The only solution for behavior like this is total police reform, but I also agree with dre cummings that a de-escalation in the War on Drugs is the ultimate solution to police brutality.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Brooks Ledger
    JD Candidate
    Indiana Tech Law School

  2. Dean dre cummings is correct, we have a major problem with law enforcement in our nation.
    I was literally sick to my stomach when I saw the slaughter of Mr. Walter Scott by a disgusting excuse for a man. I am thankful there was a camera rolling to document the senseless murder. I was shocked at the lack of care for another human life. To unload eight rounds into an unarmed, running victim and then to jerk Mr. Scott's arms behind his back and place handcuffs on him, as he surely is struggling to breath. Really Slager, you heartless coward, do you really think Mr. Scott is going to jump up and run away?
    I also agree with Mr. Brooks Ledger regarding the Tulsa, OK case. The lack of care for others is shocking. The behavior of some of these officers in both North Carolina and Oklahoma is appalling. When a person is hired by our government to "Protect and Serve" and they behave by responding, "fuck your breath," to a man dieing from a gunshot wound something must be done.
    Thankfully the shooter in Oklahoma is being charged, but Brooks is correct, the other officers must be severely disciplined as well.
    Immediate suspension, and either termination or extended amount of diversity education.
    America's current policing policies are broken. Much work is needed.
    Our National and State leaders must start a program similar to "Homeland Security" which was started after the crisis of "Sept. 11th 2001." We have a crisis that will not fix itself and is surely not going away.
    K. Aaron Heifner
    2L law student
    Indiana Tech Law School

  3. I watched CNN for over an hour when this story broke, as they had non-stop coverage of it, and I was able to see a video expert who slowed down and zoomed in on the video from the time that Mr. Scott ran away until the time the officer went over to him after the shooting. Through careful analysis of the video, the expert determined that something shiny fell from the belt of the officer as Mr. Scott escaped from his grasp. As Mr. Scott ran, the officer reached for his gun and shot Scott 8 times (about 30 feet away from him, no less!) The officer immediately called to dispatch and reported that Scott had taken his taser. The expert then noted the officer picked up the aforementioned shiny object and softly tossed it next to Scott's body. He even re-positioned said object near Mr. Scott as another responding officer tended to him. Obviously, this object was the taser, as opined in the blog. The expert stopped short of making this assumption but it does not take an trained expert to connect the dots. The officer so quickly reported his version of the story after he fired the shots that it leads one to believe that he had this story ready to go if he ever shot an innocent person; a pre-packaged defense, if you will. It's a shame that police body cameras aren't standard yet, as it would help curb the brazenness of the boys in blue. Thank goodness for the good Samaritan that caught this all on camera. This officer thought his act was only witnessed by Scott and himself but he did not account for the readily-available access to cameras that almost all Americans have on a daily basis. If the guy on the camera was caught filming this, he may have been introduced to a bullet, as well. A tail light? A person is dead over a tail light? I know this blog is against mass incarceration and the private prison machine but, please, save one special room with a big lock on the door and no key for this particular cretin cop.

  4. I'd like to think most cops are not like this guy. The Indiana State Police go to great lengths to ensure they get the best and most qualified people for the job. Part of that process includes a Psychological test, which I have taken. Maybe more police departments should do the same.
    Rick Grumpp