CHARLESTON, S.C. - Former North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager took the stand Tuesday to tell his version of what happened when he fatally shot a black motorist fleeing a traffic stop last year.
Slager, choking back tears, says he felt "total fear" when a black motorist he had been chasing wrestled away his Taser and pointed the weapon at him.
Slager, a white fired North Charleston patrolman, testified in his own defense on Tuesday in his murder trial. He faces 30 years to life if convicted in the shooting death of Walter Scott as he fled a traffic stop in April 2015. The shooting was captured on cellphone video that stunned the nation.
Slager testified that he was going to give Scott a warning ticket for a broken taillight when Scott ran from his car. He says he fired his stun gun three times at Scott. He says the two wrestled and Scott got control of his stun gun.
He says that's when he felt "total fear that Scott didn't stop." So when Scott broke free and began to run away again, he says he did what he was trained to do, firing at Scott "until the threat was stopped."
Scott, who was black, was shot five times in the back while running from the white officer.
Slager was fired from the North Charleston Police Department and charged with murder when the cellphone video became public.
Scott's family has said Scott may have run from the scene because he was behind on child support and afraid of going back to jail.
Slager, who has been free on bail since January and who has given few media interviews since the incident, was the 18th defense witness in a trial that has entered its fifth week. A jury of eleven whites and one black is hearing the case.
The defense contends that the short video widely seen in the media and on the internet doesn't tell the whole story. The defense is laying out a case that the officer told Scott to stop and repeatedly warned that he was going to use his stun gun before Scott wrestled with the officer and got control of Slager's Taser.
One expert in crime scene re-creation testified for the defense last week that it appears from the video that Scott threw a Taser as he confronted the officer seconds before the shooting. That segment of the video is blurry and shaky.
The jury has seen 3-D computer re-creations of the scene presented by witnesses for both the defense and the prosecution. Judge Clinton Newman is also weighing a defense request to allow the jurors to visit the scene of the shooting.
The case is expected to go to the jury by week's end.
Slager jury hears about use of force, other police shootings
One of Michael Slager's old colleagues from the North Charleston Police Department testified at his murder trial Monday that someone fleeing from a crime scene could be considered a threat. A second officer testified the stress of an officer-involved shooting left him so disoriented he couldn't immediately recall half of what he did.
The officers were among four from the department to testify about everything from use of force to police procedures Monday. Slager is expected to take the stand in his own defense Tuesday.
He faces 30 years to life if convicted in the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was shot five times in the back in quick succession as he fled a traffic stop in April 2015. The shooting was captured by a bystander on cellphone video that stunned the nation. Slager, 35, was charged with murder and fired from the department once the video was made public.
Jason Dandridge, the firearms training officer for the North Charleston Police Department, testified that officers must qualify in the use of their revolvers at least once a year at a local shooting range. He said officers must hit targets, shooting in rapid succession. He added there is no other mandatory training with firearms for officers.
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Dandridge was asked if a suspect who was running away is considered a threat.
A suspect could be a threat "if someone has tried to kill someone and they are fleeing to another area of potential victims," Dandridge replied. Asked if North Charleston officers are trained to shoot someone in the back he replied, "If it's needed."
Scott was unarmed at the time.
Officer Jerry Jellico, who was subpoenaed by the defense, described a 1990 incident on nearby James Island in which he and two other officers were involved in the shooting of a suspect.
In such a situation "you're stressed out. You're hyper-focused," he testified.
"I couldn't remember half of what I did," immediately afterward, he told the jury. "The details were all muddled together. You get the times and distances mixed up."
The prosecution contends that, immediately after the shooting, Slager made up a story about struggling with Scott and Scott getting hold of his Taser before running away.
Another witness called by the defense, North Charleston Police Lt. Walter Humphries, testified that because Scott was running away, a baton would not have worked to get him to stop because officers are taught to use a baton to hit someone's legs. He said pepper spray needs to be sprayed in someone's face.
Asked whether Slager should have just given up the chase, Humphries testified, "That's always an option, but I would prefer that officer isn't working for me."
Humphries testified that using the Taser was "the safest and most proficient way to apprehend someone who is fleeing from you." He was not asked about the propriety of shooting a suspect in the back.
The trial entered its fifth week Monday and could go to the jury by the end of the week.
The defense has asked Circuit Judge Clifton Newman to allow the jury of 11 whites and one black to visit the scene of the shooting. Newman did not immediately rule on the request Monday.
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