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North Charleston officer who shot man had prior excessive force complaint

Barbara Scott (R), cousin of Walter Scott, the 50-year-old man who was killed after being fired at eight times as he ran away from an officer after a traffic stop, lays flowers with her mother Evaliana Smalls (L) at the lot where the incident happened in North Charleston, S.C.
Barbara Scott (R), cousin of Walter Scott, the 50-year-old man who was killed after being fired at eight times as he ran away from an officer after a traffic stop, lays flowers with her mother Evaliana Smalls (L) at the lot where the incident happened in North Charleston, S.C. AFP/Getty Images

The police department whose officer was charged with murder after shooting an unarmed man in the back is taking another look at a previous use-of-force case against him that was closed two years ago. Witnesses in that case told The Associated Press that investigators never contacted them.

North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said the department will review its decision to exonerate Michael Slager of any wrongdoing in a 2013 case involving his use of a Taser against another unarmed black man.

That man, Mario Givens, 33, told the AP Wednesday that Slager – the officer jailed in the shooting death of Walter Scott after a bystander’s cellphone video was made public – woke him before dawn one morning by loudly banging on his front door and saying “Come outside or I'll Tase you!”

“I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I raised my arms over my head, and when I did, he Tased me in my stomach anyway,” Givens said. “…(The police) never contacted anyone from that night. No one from the neighborhood.”

Slager claimed in his official police report that he killed Scott in self-defense Saturday after Scott grabbed his Taser. Givens said Slager also used a Taser against him, for no reason.

In Slager’s report, obtained through a public-records request, he wrote that he could not see one of Givens’ hands and feared he might be holding a weapon.

As it turns out, Givens’ arrest was a case of mistaken identity. After being tased, dragged outside, thrown to the ground, handcuffed and accused of resisting arrest, he was released without charge.

The next day, Givens filed a formal complaint accusing Slager of excessive use of force. He and his mother say several neighbors who witnessed what happened on the family’s front lawn also contacted the police, though they say officers refused to take their statements.

The senior officer assigned to investigate the complaint closed the case a couple of weeks later. Slager’s personnel file, which AP obtained through a public records request, said he was “exonerated.”

Givens and all of the witnesses contacted by the AP said no one from the department ever contacted them to see if what they saw differed at all from what Slager put in his incident report.

Givens said the pain from the Taser was so intense that he dropped to the floor and began calling for his mother.

“It was very devastating,” said Bessie Givens, 57, who was awakened by her son’s screams. “You watch your son like that, he’s so vulnerable. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I was so scared.”

The Givenses’ North Charleston neighborhood of Union Heights is overwhelmingly black and working poor, typified by sagging wood-frame houses with peeling paint, barren yards and chain link fences festooned with no trespassing signs.

The district is patrolled by a city police force that is about 80 percent white that residents told the AP they regard with a mixture of distrust and fear resulting from what they say are routine occurrences of petty brutality.

“We’ve had through the years numerous similar complaints, and they all seem to be taken lightly and dismissed without any obvious investigation,” the Rev. Joseph Darby, vice president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Thursday.

Dash cam video released

Video released Thursday from the dashboard of Slager’s cruiser captures the very first moments he and Scott meet, a strikingly benign encounter at its earliest stages. It changes within minutes as Scott takes off running and the officer runs after him.

The video captures the moments leading up to a fatal shooting that has sparked outrage as the latest example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. The shooting itself was captured by an eyewitness on his iPhone and provided the impetus for the officer to be charged with murder and fired.

But questions had remained how the traffic stop turned deadly. The dash cam video provides a more complete picture of the encounter.

The dash cam video shows Scott being pulled over in a used Mercedes-Benz he had purchased just days earlier. Police have said he was being stopped for a broken tail light. Slager is seen walking toward the driver’s side window and heard asking for Scott’s license and registration. Slager then returns to his cruiser. Next, the video shows Scott starting to get out of the car, his right hand raised above his head, then he quickly gets back into the car and closes the door.

Seconds later, he opens the door again and takes off running. Within a city block or two, out of the dashboard camera’s view, Slager catches up to him in an empty lot.

A bystander noticed the confrontation and pushed record on his cellphone, capturing video that has outraged the nation: it shows Scott running away again, and Slager firing eight shots at his back.

The mostly black neighborhood where the shooting took place is far from unique, said Melvin Tucker, a former FBI agent and police chief in four southern cities who often testifies in police misconduct cases.

Nationwide, training that pushes pre-emptive action, military experience that creates a warzone mindset, and a legal system favoring police in misconduct cases all lead to scenarios where officers begin to see the people they serve as enemies, he said.

“It’s not just training. It’s not just unreasonable fear. It’s not just the warrior mentality. It’s not just court decisions that almost encourage the use of it. It is not just race,” Tucker said. “It is all of that.”

Both Slager, 33, and Scott, 55, were U.S. Coast Guard veterans. Scott had been jailed repeatedly for failing to pay child support. Slager consistently earned positive reviews in his five years with the North Charleston Police.

Slager’s new attorney, Andy Savage, said Thursday that he’s conducting his own investigation, and that it’s “far too early for us to be saying what we think.”

The officer, whose wife is eight months pregnant, is being held without bond pending a hearing on a charge of murder that could put him in prison for 30 years to life if convicted.

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