Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
Lead defense attorney Andy Savage
The role of SLED agents and a witness for the prosecution drew a strong rebuke from attorneys for Michael Slager Monday.
The third week of Slager's trial began with a legal debate surrounding the testimony of the investigator employed by Slager’s former attorney, David Aylor. Just days after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, Aylor and his investigator Levi Miles were present as SLED agents questioned Slager, the former North Charleston officer charged with killing Scott following a traffic stop. During that interview, Miles played the role of Scott as Slager re-enacted the events of the shooting, but his ability to testify in the state trial against the former officer was called into question Monday.
The defense provided a multifaceted objection, which included the argument that Miles taking the witness stand would violate attorney-client privilege due to his position as an employee of Slager’s attorney at the time. After more than an hour of deliberation, state Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman allowed Miles to take the stand and share his version of the story Slager provided to investigators that day.
Stepping down from the witness stand during questioning by prosecutors, Miles lay facedown on the courtroom floor to demonstrate the position of Walter Scott after being tased by Slager. Working his way back through the re-enactment that he carried out with Slager more than a year ago in Aylor’s office, Miles then rolled over and extended his hands to indicate the alleged struggle that Slager said took place.
According to Miles, Slager then instructed investigators that Scott gained control of the Taser and turned the weapon against the officer. Contrary to previous allegations made during the trial, at no point did Slager tell Miles and other in the room that Scott was able to deploy the Taser by pressing it to Slager’s chest.
SLED agent Angela Peterson, the case investigator and one of two agents present that day to question Slager, said she was told that the officer feared for his life. Worried that Scott would use the Taser to incapacitate him and take his pistol, Slager said he stepped back and opened fire. Following their interview, Peterson says those present spent the next 45 minutes examining her notes of Slager’s story before approving the narrative provided and the meeting ended. That would not be the last interaction between Slager and Peterson that day.
Returning several hours later, Peterson presented an eyewitness video that showed Scott running away from Slager as he opened fire. During questioning by the prosecution Monday, Miles testified that the video presented to him was in stark contrast to the events he had acted out with Slager. Facing a harsh cross-examination from lead defense attorney Andy Savage, who alleged that an enhanced version of the video shows Scott gaining the upper hand in the struggle with Slager, Miles admitted that he had not taken an active role in investigating the events of the shooting and his memory of certain events involving the case were spotty.
“You did nothing in this case to represent Mr. Slager? Isn’t that correct?” Savage asked Miles before adding that he was serving as a pawn for the state of South Carolina during his testimony.
Savage spent a majority of Monday afternoon chronicling the various holes in Peterson’s account of her investigation. In previous hearings, the defense has been highly critical of the agent’s level of experience when she began working on Slager’s case, noting that Peterson had received no training specific to homicide investigation prior to June 2015. Peterson failed to answer many of Savage’s questions regarding the gathering and testing of evidence.
Chief among the defense’s concerns is the missing fourth Taser prong that was never collected. According to Slager, he fired his Taser at Scott twice during their chase. On the first shot, only one of two Taser prongs was able to connect. Reloading his Taser, Slager said he fired again, this time connecting with both prongs and incapacitating Scott. Peterson testified that DNA evidence was not collected from the recovered prongs. When questioned as to why she believes that Scott was ever truly subdued by Taser fire, Peterson referenced the narrative of that day’s events provided by Slager, the legitimacy of which has been challenged by prosecutors throughout the trial. The agent also admitted that the Taser wasn’t photographed or examined for trace evidence before being sent to the manufacturer for analysis.
By the close of the cross-examination, Savage had challenged the credibility of a large number of Peterson’s decisions and recollections during the case, noting a change between her initial notes — that stated Slager had the Taser pointed at him and was in fear for his life — and a later report that described Scott as the person fleeing from the Taser after the struggle.
“The summary doesn’t reflect what Mr. Slager said. It reflects the opposite,” said Savage.