By BRUCE SMITH and SEANNA ADCOX
Relatives of Walter Scott, the black motorist fatally shot while fleeing a traffic stop, say they are confident justice will prevail even though a South Carolina jury could not reach a verdict in the murder trial of a white former police officer charged in his death.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman on Monday declared a mistrial in the case of Michael Slager after the jury of 11 whites and one black deadlocked. The panel, considering verdicts of murder or voluntary manslaughter, deliberated more than 22 hours over four days and heard testimony from 55 witnesses during the five-week trial.
“God is my strength, and I know without doubt he is a just God and injustice will not prevail,” Scott’s mother, Judy, told reporters later. “We have a federal trial and another trial to go. I’m going to rest in the Lord.”
Immediately after the mistrial was declared, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she would retry the case. Slager goes on trial in federal court early next year on charges of depriving Scott of his civil rights.
Scott’s brother, Anthony, said Slager, who is free on bond, will be able to spend Christmas with his family and his young child.
“Me and my family will never see Walter again. We have to live with the fact that Walter got gunned down, shot in the back,” Anthony Scott said. He said he could eventually “find the peace” to forgive the ex-officer but not before justice is served.
The April 2015 shooting of the 50-year-old Scott was captured on widely distributed cellphone video that renewed a national debate about how blacks are treated by law officers. Taken by a barber on his way to work, the footage showed Scott being shot five times in the back as he ran from Slager.
After the video became public, Slager was fired and charged with murder. Scott’s family called for calm at the time, which is thought to have helped prevent the kind of violence that erupted elsewhere when blacks were killed by police.
Wilson praised the Scott family and said “they have not received the credit they deserve in their calm leadership for the community.”
Slager’s mistrial is the second time in recent weeks a jury has deadlocked in an officer-involved shooting. A mistrial was declared Nov. 12 when a Cincinnati jury couldn’t reach a verdict in the case of a former campus police officer who was also charged with shooting a black motorist.
Slager’s wife, Jamie, cried after the jurors were dismissed. She said “thank you for everything” to the defense lawyers as they left the courtroom. She did not respond when asked to comment. Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage, also did not comment.
“I don’t think there is a soul or a person with a soul that thinks what Michael Slager did is OK or is not wrong,” said Justin Bamberg, an attorney for the Scott family. “I don’t think questions of fact were the issues for this jury. I think there were issues of their interpretation of the law.”
The video dominated the trial. The jurors saw it numerous times, sometimes frame by frame.
Scott was pulled over in North Charleston for having a broken taillight on his 1990 Mercedes and then fled the car, running into a vacant lot. Family members have said he may have run because he was worried about going to jail because he was $18,000 behind on child support.
The defense maintained that the men wrestled on the ground, Scott got control of Slager’s stun gun and then pointed the weapon at the officer before the shooting.
Last year, North Charleston reached a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott’s family. The city also asked the U.S. Justice Department conduct a review of its police department policies to see how it could improve its relationship with residents.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Scott family attorney was referencing the defendant, not the victim.