(CNN) — A South Carolina officer has been charged with murder after a video surfaced that appears to show him shooting an unarmed man who was running away.
Michael Slager, an officer with the North Charleston Police Department, was arrested Tuesday, according to a statement from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED. If found guilty of murder, he could face up to life in prison or death.
The shooting took place Saturday morning after a traffic stop, SLED said. Video obtained by The New York Times shows what happened.
A black man, identified as 50-year-old Walter Scott, breaks away from the white officer. Something falls, and the officer fires eight shots at the man as he runs away. Scott, who appears to be unarmed, drops to the ground.
“I can tell you that as the result of that video and the bad decision made by our officer, he will be charged with murder,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told reporters Tuesday. “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And if you make a bad decision — don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street — you have to live by that decision.”
Family seeks truth
Scott was remembered by his brother as loving, kind and outgoing, somebody who “knew everybody.” He spent two years in the Coast Guard, and had four children.
“All we wanted was the truth,” said Anthony Scott. “I don’t think that all police officers are bad cops, but there are some bad ones out there, and I don’t want to see anyone get shot down the way that my brother got shot down.”
According to CNN affiliate WCIV, Slager initially said through his attorney, David Aylor, that he followed the appropriate policies and procedures. Aylor later told CNN that he no longer represents the officer, and it was unclear whether Slager had obtained new representation.
Police reports show that Slager said he used his Taser. The officer later said: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” according to reports.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said on Twitter that he had watched the video and that “the senseless shooting and taking of #WalterScott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.”
“My heart aches for the family and our North Charleston community. I will be watching this case closely,” said the senator, who is African-American.
The Justice Department released a statement Tuesday saying it would “take appropriate action in light of the evidence and developments in the state case.”
“The South Carolina Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation concurrent with the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and are providing aid as necessary to the state investigation. The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office will work with the FBI in the investigation,” it read.
Race and policing
North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who spoke to CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” described the shooting as tragic.
He said the incident began when the officer stopped Scott for driving with a brake light being out.
When asked whether he thought race played a role in what happened, Driggers did not rule out the possibility.
The fatal shooting is the latest in a string of controversial deaths involving white officers and black suspects. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, touched off protests and sparked a nationwide debate over race and policing. Brown, an unarmed black teen, was shot by Darren Wilson, a white officer, last August.
“I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop,” Driggers said. “I always look for the good in folks, and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that.”
Speaking to reporters late Tuesday, an attorney for the Scott family was also asked about the role race might have played in the shooting.
“This is a bigger issue of human life and the value of it, and when people start respecting that more it won’t matter what color you are,” said L. Chris Stewart.
CNN’s Sam Stringer, Chandler Friedman, Evan Perez, Jethro Mullen and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.