Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
Feidin Santana testified Friday in the trial of Michael Slager
After a full day of testimony from those who spoke to Walter Scott the morning of his death, the man who filmed the eyewitness video of Scott’s shooting took the stand Friday morning in the trial of former North Charleston officer Michael Slager.
Feidin Santana, age 25, was late for work the morning he witnessed Scott’s death. By his own confession, he shouldn’t have been anywhere near the scene of the shooting on April 4, 2015.
“God doesn’t have any coincidence,” Santana told Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson. “I woke up late that day, April 4.”
On his walk to work that day, Santana said he saw a black man in a green shirt running toward him. This was Walter Scott. Santana would never have the opportunity to know Scott, or Officer Slager who was chasing after him that day, but their lives remain inextricably linked by what happened next.
Uncertain of the situation, Santana froze out of fear. Watching the two men race into an empty lot, Santana ran to see what was happening. During this time, he recalls hearing the “electric sound” of Slager’s Taser. Regaining sight of the two men, Santana says he watched Slager position himself on top of Scott as the two struggled before returning to their feet. Stepping out from the witness stand to act out his testimony to the jury, Santana claims he saw Slager grab Scott’s right hand as he attempted to turn away from the officer. Santana filmed the events as Scott allegedly pulled away.
“He got away. That’s been something I have never forgot. It’s been something that I didn’t expect. He shoot him,” Santana told the jury.
After a brief break, the jury returned to the courtroom and the video of the shooting was played for the first time during the trial. The video was widely circulated by the media following its release last year and has been a major point of contention during the trial. Attorneys for the defense had previously petitioned the judge to exclude the video from the trial, calling it “unreliable, technically inadequate, limited in scope, and extremely unrepresentative of the events at issue.” Of the almost 190 potential jurors questioned on Monday, nine said that they had never heard anything about the case through the media, through seeing the video, from friends, or from discussing the case in any way. Motions from the defense to have the video thrown out and prohibiting it from being shown in slow motion were dismissed by state Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman.
Following Scott’s shooting, Santana watched as other officers arrived on the scene. Thinking Scott was still alive at the time, Santana left the area, but he was unable to completely escape what he had witnessed.
In the following days, Santana would eventually decide to try to contact those suspicious of the narrative of Scott’s death released to the public. Santana began to fear for his safety and sent copies of the video to his wife and a friend for safekeeping. Eventually, he was able to arrange a meeting with members of the Walter Scott family.
“I was showing them the other side of the story. I was showing them the truth,” he told the jury.
The video would soon spread beyond the Scott family as it was released to the media. Before speaking with investigators, Santana began to conduct televised interviews and, at the approval of the Scott family, started to accept donations and hired an agent. He bought a car and traveled back to the Dominican Republic. Lead defense attorney Andy Savage would call Santana’s behavior into question for the remainder of the day, painting the 25-year-old as an opportunist with an extreme distrust of police. Savage read aloud lyrics from songs written by Santana, such as, “It’s all war, trouble, police abuse ... Those who defend us are the worst criminals. Who can I trust?”
After more than five hours of questioning, Santana was once again asked what he saw the day Walter Scott was shot, specifically, did Scott turn Slager’s Taser against the officer. And again Santana refuted the former officer’s account of what happened.
“At any point, did you see Walter Scott coming at Officer Slager?” Solicitor Wilson asked Santana.
“That never happened,” he replied.