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Nearly all-white jury at trial of police officer who shot unarmed black man five times

11 members of the 12-man jury are white.

slag1 Screengrab from video of Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott repeatedly in April 2015

A FORMER SOUTH Carolina police officer has gone on trial for murder today for shooting to death an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, as he fled from a traffic stop.

Hit by five bullets, 50-year-old Scott fell to the ground and quickly died in the encounter on 4 April 2015 – one of a series of police shootings of unarmed black males that stoked a national outcry over police tactics.

In opening arguments before a largely white jury, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said Michael Slager had shirked his duty when he opened fire on Scott as he ran away.

Defense lawyer Andy Savage countered that Scott provoked Slager (34) first by fleeing from the traffic stop, initiating a chase, and then by resisting the policeman “to the extent they were both fighting on the ground”.

Savage said the presence of Scott’s DNA on Slager’s Taser indicated he was trying to wrest the weapon away from the police officer, while the prosecution said Scott was instinctively trying to push away the weapon that Slager was painfully discharging into his body.

Slager came upon Scott while on routine patrol in North Charleston, South Carolina, a city with a history of strained race relations between the city’s police department and large black community.

Slager, who is white, pulled over Scott, who is black, that Saturday morning because one of the tail-lights on Scott’s 1991 Mercedes was not functioning.

slager Michael Slager's prison mugshot Source: AP

Fled

Scott soon fled from the car, leading Slager to pursue him. A bystander recorded a portion of their interaction, showing Scott and Slager scuffling briefly before Scott turns again to flee as Slager shoots him multiple times.

Within days of the shooting and the emergence of the video Slager was charged with murder and fired from the North Charleston Police Department.

The incident became national news, viewed by some as part of a pattern of unjustified fatal police shootings of unarmed black men in the United States.

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers said he was “sickened” by what he saw in the video.

To emphasise the prosecution’s contention that the shooting was unlawful, Wilson today walked across the small courtroom, away from the jurors, approximating the distance at which Scott was shot by Slager. Later she mentioned these shots came as Scott was first 17 feet away from Slager, then 35 feet, and finally 50 feet, where he fell and died.

She then cast suspicion on Slager’s actions following the shooting, when he allegedly moved the Taser in an effort to support his version of the fatal encounter, which Wilson claimed was untruthful.

“Michael Slager’s first instinct wasn’t to give CPR, it wasn’t to give first aid, it was to stage (the scene),” said Wilson, Charleston County’s lead prosecutor.

“Flat out wrong”

What Michael Slager did to Walter Scott was wrong. It was flat out wrong.

Savage claimed Slager acted responsibly as a police officer in pursuing the suspect and did not know Scott had no weapon.

“How would he know that he was unarmed? He never had a chance to pat him down,” said Savage.

The defence lawyer then ridiculed the prosecution’s assertion that Scott fled the traffic stop because he was wary of being arrested for failing to make child support payments.

“They claim to know what was in Walter Scott’s mind,” said Savage. “How do they know that?”

After opening arguments the prosecution called their first witnesses, all family members or acquaintances of Scott.

The case is being heard by a jury of six white men, five white women and one black man.

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© – AFP, 2016

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