Grace Beahn/Post and Courier
Lead defense attorney Andy Savage and former North Charleston officer Michael Slager
Taking the stand Thursday afternoon in the trial of Michael Slager, Anthony Scott was posed a question to which everyone in the courtroom already knew the answer.
“Do you have brothers?” asked Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson.
“Oh yes, I do have brothers. I had two brothers. I have one brother now,” Scott answered before identifying himself as the old brother of Walter Scott. Looking back on their final conversation, Anthony Scott recalled learning that Walter was in the process of obtaining a 1991 Mercedes-Benz.
“After he sent me the text and showed me that it was a Benz and I saw that it was a Benz, I was very troubled because I said, ‘That’s a Mercedes-Benz. You live in North Charleston, and you know that’s a highly profiled area. I don’t think that a very wise thing to do,’” he told the solicitor. “Me and him never had discussed his child-support issue, and I asked him, ‘Are you current?’
Walter Scott was not current on his payments, and his brother begged him to reconsider purchasing the car. Days later, Walter Scott was pulled over by Slager for a non-functioning third taillight. Prosecutors allege that Scott fled the scene of the traffic stop in fear of jail time for overdue child-support payments. Slager pursued, chasing Scott into a nearby empty lot, ultimately opening fire and fatally wounding Scott.
Lt. Charles Ghent of SLED testified later in the afternoon, recounting an interview with Slager conducted by he and a fellow investigator just days after the shooting. Chasing Scott into the field, Slager said he fired his Taser, eventually subduing the suspect. As Slager approached, he told agents that he could hear a voice coming from the phone Scott had used to call his mother during the chase. Slager said he could hear a voice coming from the phone telling Scott to do whatever the officer says. Slager said that as he attempted to hold Scott down, the two continued to struggle and he was forced to stun Scott directly in the side with his Taser.
After radioing for his backup to “Step it up,” Slager said Scott reached for the Taser and was able to pull it from his hand. The former officer then told investigators that Scott was obviously attempting to use the weapon against him. Tired from the chase, Slager claimed he feared for his life as Scott began to approach him with the Taser extended in his right hand. Slager stepped back, pulled his weapon, shuffled to the left, and fired as Scott turned, according to the account Slager provided SLED agents last year.
Recounting the moments after the shooting, Slager claimed that he handcuffed Scott before checking for a pulse, then retrieved his Taser from the ground, holstering the weapon. At the time of the interview with investigators, Slager was unaware that agents had seen an eyewitness video of the shooting that prosecutors have used as a key piece of evidence in refuting the former officer’s account of what happened that day.
Following their initial interview with Slager, Ghent says they learned that Scott’s family was preparing to release the video to the media. Returning to the site of the their previous meeting, agents showed the video to Slager and his attorney at the time, and the interview ended. Ghent says he then received the call that Slager was charged with the murder of Walter Scott. Slager was then taken into custody.
As Thursday’s court proceedings continued, Ghent was cross examined by Slager’s lead defense attorney Andy Savage, who questioned the investigator as to the reason the former officer’s bullet-proof vest wasn’t seized and tested following the shooting. According to the defense, Slager claims that Scott attempted to use the Taser against him, leading to the officer using his weapon.
“You know that this whole case isn’t about the shooting. It’s about what led to the shooting,” Savage said to Ghent.
Throughout the trial, the defense has been a harsh critic of SLED’s efforts to gather evidence immediately following Scott’s shooting. Turning his focus to the interview that Ghent and another agent conducted with Slager days after the shooting, Savage questioned why no recording of the interview was made. The only evidence of Slager’s story that day come from the handwritten notes taken by the two agents. Savage asked Ghent if he and his partner had phones with them that day, any device that they might use to record what Slager was saying. Ghent said that their decision at the time was to obtain a written statement from the officer. In the 12 pages of written notes taken, Ghent said that no point did Slager communicate that he had been tased by Scott.
Recalling what video and audio evidence is available in the case, Ghent agreed with Savage that Slager’s demands for Scott to stop and warnings that he would be using his Taser were captured by the microphone attached to his uniform.
“Was there ever a time from your investigation that Mr. Scott surrendered to Officer Slager in terms of statements, in terms of putting his hands up, doing anything to indicate that he was not going to continue on the path that he had chosen to take?” Savage asked Ghent.
“No, not until he was shot and killed,” Ghent answered.