Editor’s Note: Former Officer Michael Slager went to trial in the shooting death of Walter Scott which resulted in a mistrial last week after the jury deadlocked. Detective Chelsea Whitaker always calls it like she sees it. Here is her take.
Michael Slager is guilty. Period. Many of you ask why I never have a straight answer for many of these complicated cases and the truth is that there are rarely any cases that are black and white.
This one is black and white.
As officers, we beg citizens to be patient and wait for the process to happen. This is heartbreaking because there is absolutely no excuse for his actions. Being an officer is too hard for us to have a person wear the badge and behave this way. Generally speaking, if the situation is close, the officer generally should get the benefit of the doubt. That does not mean that it is open season for officers to kill people. It is just a testament to how impossible it is for humans to do the job flawlessly and they should be given the benefit of the doubt when making split second decisions involving citizens who don’t follow simple instructions. If you aren’t an officer, you can’t understand this concept.
I have watched the video numerous times. I was attempting to analyze it from a cop’s perspective and trying to give this officer the benefit of the doubt because I understand how difficult it is to do this job. I didn’t find one reason why this guy should not be found guilty.
Slager stated that he thought it was weird for Walter Scott to run after being stopped for a traffic violation. Any officer would agree with that statement. Usually when people run from a traffic stop, they have a more egregious warrant, a weapon or drugs that they are trying to hide. It makes sense for an officer to be on high alert. He allegedly got into a tussle with Mr. Scott prior to the video footage that we observed. If Slager got into a fight with Mr. Scott over his taser at that point, he would have been justified to use his gun. That didn’t happen.
I have said this in other posts. There are 2 types of fighting suspects that officers encounter. Those that fight/ tussle in an effort to flee (Walter Scott) and those that fight/ tussle to harm the officer (Michael Brown). A suspect can vacillate between both of those groups or remain in one group. The officer has every right to try and apprehend any suspect that they have a right to arrest. The officer does not have to let the suspect escape. These categories generally determine what level of force an officer might use. Keep in mind that numerous officers have been killed as a result of chasing a suspect who suddenly displayed a weapon and shot the officer while running from the officer. There have also been officers justified for shooting someone in the back because of this reason. That is a very real thing and must be noted, but that wasn’t the case in this situation.
There are generally 2 categories of people that run from the police. Every officer’s nightmare is to chase a young, skinny, male wearing a t-shirt and shorts who is running for their freedom. They leap fences with ease, change directions like Barry Sanders and never get tired. Those are the suspects that an officer would try and follow in a vehicle as long as possible so that they can get tired before the officer gets out of their car wearing a duty belt and heavy vest. Those types of chases are nightmares.
Mr. Scott fit in the other category. I am not saying this to be disrespectful. I am saying it to prove a point. Walter Scott was overweight. It is generally rare for big people to run from officers because they know that they might make it 25 yards before they are tired and can no longer run. Officers know that too. If an officer had to chase someone, these are the types of people officers would rather chase. I would probably get on my radio and tell other officers to head my direction while he is running because I know that he won’t last long and I would have time to catch up to him. They typically run in an uncoordinated manner because they aren’t track stars. You can typically see their hands because they aren’t running with proper form. This is how Walter Scott ran. When officers chase heavy people, they are usually gasping for air by the time the officers catch up to them that they have no energy to fight. They usually just lay on the ground and begin the infamous “I can’t breathe” comments. They are usually telling the truth. They are usually struggling to breathe because they are out of shape and haven’t exerted that much energy in their entire lives. After they sit there for a minute, they are usually fine. Mike Brown did not do this. He continuously assaulted an officer, tried to wrestle the gun from an officer, finally ran after being shot, then stopped and advanced toward the officer again. That was a rare response.
Walter Scott never had the opportunity to run and collapse or run and charge.
When suspects are fighting officers they often inadvertently touch the officer’s weapons on his belt. Sometimes they touch those weapons on purpose because they want to hurt the officer. Sometimes they aren’t trying to take the weapon, they are trying to keep the officer from using the weapon on them. It is not the officer’s job to determine if a suspect is trying to take their weapon or simply did so accidentally. If Slager would have shot Mr. Scott during this type of confusion during their initial struggle, he would more than likely be innocent. No one would ask an officer to wait until the suspect has complete control of an officer’s weapon before ensuring their own safety. We all saw how the taser dropped to the ground as Mr. Scott began to flee. It was clear that Mr. Scott was attempting to flee and did not intend to harm Slager.
Again, all of the stuff that I am discussing is processed within a matter of seconds. I don’t have a problem with Slager drawing his pistol at this point. All officers have been there at some time or another. In the midst of processing what is going on, feeling your taser become dislodged, the next step is to draw your pistol. After drawing the pistol, officers generally begin to give commands to stop. Sometimes suspects try to grab the pistol, charge the officer, block the pistol, drop to the ground in fear and sometimes they run. Mr. Scott decided to run. When a suspect had a prior touch, block or grab of an officer’s taser, that does not give the officer the right to shoot someone after they have disengaged and ran away. Officers should not run with a pistol in their hand due to the danger of accidentally discharging the weapon. Officers should holster the weapon and pursue the suspect, radio for assistance, walk/run after the guy, get back into the vehicle and follow him or let him go.
It was possible that he thought Mr. Scott had a weapon. It would be in the back of any officer’s mind, but it doesn’t give an officer the right to just shoot just in case he has a gun. There has to be more than that. Maybe an officer felt an object that felt like a gun during the scuffle. Maybe the fleeing suspect said that they were about to kill the officer. Maybe he was reaching in his waistband. There simply needs to be more. It was broad daylight, Mr. Scott was overweight and running in an awkward manner. He was 18 feet away from the officer when he fired his first shot.
All officers don’t engage in foot chases for various reasons. Some officers commit to the “courtesy trot” in an effort to make an attempt to follow the suspect in an effort to assist the young, hyper officers who will arrive shortly. After drawing a gun and realizing that the suspect chose to run, an officer should holster the weapon and make some effort to pursue if they choose to do so. Michael Slager made NO ATTEMPT to pursue Mr. Scott. He made no attempt to holster his weapon. Even if you are an officer who doesn’t chase, you would likely take 10 steps or so in an effort to pursue before giving up. He did not take 1 step in the direction of Walter Scott. He made up his mind that he was shooting him. He took a shooting stance like he was at the gun range preparing to qualify with his weapon. During many justified police shootings, an officer rarely has the opportunity to set their feet, extend their arms, lean forward, focus on their sights and fire. Michael Slager did all of that. There did not appear to be any stress involved in his actions. As Walter Scott waddled away from him in slow motion, he shot him multiple times and it was totally unjustifiable. He testified that he wasn’t sure if any of his rounds actually hit his body. That is the case many times when officers are involved in shootings. The problem with that is that if he thought that he missed Mr. Scott, why didn’t he approach the body with his gun pointed at him? If he feared for his life like he claimed and believe him to be a threat, there is no excuse not to approach a threat with a gun pointed at the threat. Mr. Scott should not have run from the police, but it doesn’t justify Slager’s actions.
After shooting him, Slager heard the police sirens in the distance. He knew that he only had a limited amount of time before witnesses would arrive. He ran to the scene of his “tussle”, picked up his taser (that he knew Walter Scott did not have), and strategically dropped it next to Walter Scott’s dying body. If you are an officer, you were probably searching for any action during this video that would justify his fear and him shooting Walter Scott. When you see Slager drop his taser next to his body, there were no more questions as to Michael Slager’s intent. Let’s say that he did “accidentally” drop his taser next to Mr. Scott’s body. Why did he leave it on the ground for such a long time before picking it up? When a person accidentally drops their keys, cell phone, bag, watch, flash light, or anything else, you pick it up after you drop it. Who drops something accidentally and leaves it on the ground? He knew he was wrong and he began to build his defense. He wanted the other officer to see the taser next to the body.
HE MADE NO EFFORT TO RUN AFTER WALTER SCOTT TO APPREHEND HIM LIKE AN OFFICER SHOULD, BUT HE RAN TO GET HIS TASER TO PLANT IT NEXT TO A DYING MAN’S BODY.
The only sense of urgency he showed throughout the entire video was to go get his taser so that he could drop it next to Mr. Scott. That doesn’t sound like a man whose mind was “like spaghetti” as he stated during his testimony. I saw a man that immediately took action to defend himself because he knew he was wrong.
They were in an open field. There was no one else that Walter Scott could have harmed even if he thought that Walter Scott had his taser. If Slager actually chased him, significantly decreased the distance between the 2 of them and then shot him because he thought Mr. Scott had his taser, that would make more sense, but that wasn’t the case.
I believed that this should have been an open and shut case. One juror stated that he could not vote against the officer with a clear conscious. Many officers are silent about this case because they know that this guy was wrong. When a person kills an officer, people began to protest and officers can’t wait to express their disbelief about how anyone can second guess an officer doing an impossible job. When an officer is wrong, many officers are quiet. That doesn’t mean that they support bad officers, but it still speaks volumes.
Officers don’t have to apologize or speak out about the actions of Slager, but that is how healing starts.
When people began to protest the officer involved shooting in Charlotte, people didn’t wait on any facts. All they knew was that an officer killed a black man so they protested. Witnesses stated that he was simply reading a book when he was viciously murdered by the police. His wife stated that he didn’t have a gun and that was enough for Black America to get angry and protest. When evidence proved that he was smoking weed and exited his car with a gun, when he could have simply left the gun in his vehicle when he exited, America was silent. People weren’t quick to condemn the actions of the deceased when it was proven that he was completely wrong. Silence doesn’t mean that people agree with his actions, but it speaks volumes when people are silent on issues that differ from their agenda.
America doesn’t have to apologize to the officer, but that is how healing starts.
It is challenging to hold ourselves accountable for anything. It takes maturity and discipline and we spend our lifetime trying to achieve accountability or ignoring it. We take pride in telling others when they are wrong, but get offended when others do the same to us. We respond to each other’s tone and not their message. We all sin and fall short. The climate of this nation will not simmer down until we learn how to speak to each other with respect and take more accountability for our actions and those of others in “our” group.
You can never prove it completely when things happen to people in this country as a result of skin color. He may have killed Walter Scott because of his skin color or he may have done it because he was on a power trip and was insulted that this guy ran from his authority. We will never know.
White America will never understand what it means to be black in this country.
You will never understand how many times my authority was questioned because I didn’t look like a detective. You are in shock when white people are disgusted that a mall hires a black Santa and some white people refuse to allow their children to take pictures with him. You are in shock when I get stopped by the police, driving my police vehicle, wearing my raid vest, enroute to serve a warrant and I get into an argument with the officer about the validity of my badge. You are in shock when a black veteran is denied his free meal on Veteran’s Day because a white person questioned his validity. You are in shock when an elderly white lady sprays a big black man in a suit with mace while riding an elevator with him, because she had never been around black people before and she got scared. He was on his way to a business meeting. You are in shock when I say that a person on my department would not activate the gas pumps for me after seeing my ID because I don’t “look right.”
I am not asking white America to go around apologizing for the actions of others. I just want you to pause before being so dismissive of other people’s experiences. I guarantee that most of you would lose your mind if you went through things that I go through daily and I wear the supposedly, universally-respected badge. It is easy to tell a group of people to calm down when you don’t share these experiences. I appreciate those that try to understand. I understand how damaging it is to your mindset when you see black people screaming racism even when it isn’t racial.
People are hurting.
When people are hurting, they sometimes make assumptions and prefer to vent instead of receive truth. It isn’t right and it isn’t fair to you. I would still rather explain to people every day that I am not a racist than to experience racism every day. This incident was recorded on video and there was still one person who couldn’t make the right choice. That is scary to people who constantly deal with racism. It makes you feel hopeless when people who benefit from not being part of these minority groups refuse to acknowledge that it exists and hold their peers accountable. Each group has to call out their own people when they are wrong. When an older white fire fighter defended my honor when a young white fire fighter was being a jerk to me and questioned my badge, I almost cried. It meant everything to me and it put everyone else on notice that he would not tolerate that type of behavior.
Chelsea Whitaker is a Dallas Area Police Officer and member of the 2005 Baylor Bear Basketball Team that won the National Championship. Her desire is to give others #perspective in order to #bridgethegap. She is a frequent contributor to Law Officer.