The Onion, “America’s Finest [Satirical] News Source,” published a piece on April 9 – shortly after the Walter Scott shooting – detailing the pros and cons of body cameras for police. One of the cons: “Is still only going to be the irrefutable video evidence’s word against the police officer’s.” Behind this tongue-in-cheek statement is a harsh truth: Were it not for the bystander who captured the shooting on video, what reason would there have been to doubt the police officer’s story?
It’s true, in a sense, that video evidence is irrefutable, at least when you match the sequence of events portrayed by the video with that of the story given by North Charleston Patrolman Michael Slager. According to Slager’s account of what happened, Slager used his firearm against Scott because he feared for his life. Slager claimed that Scott grabbed his taser. But from what we can see in the video, that story simply isn’t true.
Timeline of Events
The headline in a USA Today report says that Slager and Scott “struggled” prior to the shooting, but that the officer “had control of the situation,” according to the bystander who caught the shooting on video. The bystander, Feidin Santana, says that he started recording when he heard Slager’s taser discharge, and that when Scott ran, he did so to get away from the taser.
We don’t see the struggle, in other words. We just don’t know what happened during the traffic stop that caused things to escalate – and we cannot emphasize this enough. All we know is that the two struggled. There may be some fact or circumstance that makes Slager into a little less of a villain – perhaps Scott really did grab Slager’s stun gun, for instance. But, even if it comes to light that Scott grabbed the stun gun, the sequence of events captured on video doesn’t lend much credibility to Slager’s side of the story.
The video in a nutshell:
- The shooting itself: You see Slager fire his weapon into Scott’s back as Scott ran away from him (not during a struggle in which Slager may have feared for his life).
- Planting evidence: You see Slager trot away from Scott after having handcuffed him, pick an object off the ground (what appears to be the taser), then walk back and casually drop the taser on the ground next to Scott’s body.
Neither of these points square with what Slager said about the situation.
No Excuses: Put Body Cameras on Police
At the beginning of this post, we asked what reason there would have been to doubt Slager’s story, were it not for the video. In fact, there’s plenty of reason to doubt Slager’s story, if only because this is a case in which it would have been Slager’s word that put the case to rest. But it wasn’t, because there was the video. To repeat the “con” in the Onion’s piece, police officers will have a more difficult time telling their own version of events – the bad apples, at any rate – because we’ll be able to see what happened with our own eyes and confirm the officer’s story ourselves.