The following was taken from Brian Dunn’s radio show “A Nation Divided”, which is aired live every Saturday at 4 pm Pacific Time on 790 KABC.
Brian Dunn: We are KABC talk radio seven-ninety, you are listening to A Nation Divided where explore issues that are coming between the cultural fabric of our nation, with an eye towards how we can tear down the walls that separate us. Specifically now we’re talking about one of the most cutting edge issues and that is the concept of a criminal prosecution involving a law enforcement officer. I have represented over two-hundred victims of cases involving issues related to excessive force, and most of them wrongful death cases. And when I’m in the living room of a family who’s lost a loved one, they always ask the same question: “Will there be a criminal prosecution? What can we do to ensure that the DA gets involved?” And all too often, I have to tell them that, “Don’t get your hopes up for that, in fact it’s probably not going to happen,” because we just haven’t seen it happen. And most of the time the DA will simply neglect to prosecute these cases. And there’s several reasons for that, and we’re gonna talk about the political reasons on the one hand. But on another hand, it has been very difficult to get jurors, just the average individual that’s signed up for jury duty to come back with guilty verdicts no matter what the circumstances are. And even though we have videos, we’ve seen this happen twenty something years ago in the Simi Valley situation with Rodney King. But we’ve seen it happen in other ways. Tell us about what really happened with Walter Scott.
Megan Johndras:Walter Scott. Walter Scott was a fifty year old man who was fatally shot by a North Charleston police officer named Michael Slager back in April of 2015. Over three years ago now. That case was one in which we had very clear video of Mr. Scott being shot. What happened in that case was officer Slager had pulled Mr. Scott over for driving, during the daylight hours, with a broke brake light. Mr. Scott stopped the vehicle, but then he fled from the car when officer Slager approached it. During the foot pursuit there was a physical altercation of some sort between officer Slager and Mr. Scott.
Dunn: Captured on video?
Johndras: That, I do not believe was. If it was, it was so discombobulated that you could not really tell what was going on. But the taser was taken out by officer Slager. And officer Slager has said he tased Mr. Scott during this altercation. After the tase occurred Mr. Scott continued to flee, and officer Slager would fire eight shots at him. Shooting him in the back, buttocks, and ear. And all of that was absolutely captured on video camera.
Dunn: Now what was the video? Did it come from the officer’s dash-cam? Body-cam? Or was it … I think it was a civilian cellphone?
Johndras: It was a civilian cellphone, yes.
Dunn: So, presumably, the officer who shot Walter Scott … Was his name Slager?
Johndras: Yes, Michael Slager.
Dunn: Presumably he didn’t realize he was on video.
Johndras: Based off of his behavior, yes.
Dunn: And, we’ve seen this time and again in our cases, where the statement that we are seeing from law enforcement officers involved in deadly force situations is so completely impossible that you almost had to know that they didn’t realize that there would be a video. So, he gives the statement, and what type of threatening behavior does he ascribe to Mr. Scott in this statement?
Johndras: Well, he, what he had said was Mr. Scott had taken his taser, and that he feared that Mr. Scott was going to use the taser to injure him or to injure somebody else. That was the primary concern that he had. At least, from his point of view, and why it was that he opened fire as Mr. Scott very clearly was fleeing from him with his back towards him.\
Dunn: And this occurred in South Carolina?
Johndras: Yes, North Charleston, South Carolina.
Dunn: So, this is happening in the South. So, there’s a prosecution. Now, again, these all have several components that need to be addressed. The fact that there is a prosecution in the first place is not to be taken lightly, because it’s just something that you so rarely, rarely see. So, we have a video, and we have a Southern prosecutor who is going to get a Southern jury, but is willing to put his reputation on the political future of his department on the line by actually pursuing the prosecution against a law enforcement officer. The issue becomes, I can’t in good conscious let this slide. On some level, you have said something, and I can tell just by looking at the video that it is a complete impossibility. It is a complete fabrication. Now, imagine there’s no video. What do you think is gonna happen next?
Johndras: I don’t know.
Dunn: Probably not even a civil prosecution, probably nothing would even be offered to the family. But, we have something different based on our technology. Now we have a video. So, now, fast forward several years later. They actually commence a prosecution. And, what happens in that case? In front of the jury, what happens?
Johndras: What happens now, what happens in Officer Slater’s criminal prosecution on the state level was a mistrial. He was charged with First Degree Murder. The case was tried to a jury, and several of those jurors indicated that they were undecided. But one of them indicated in a letter to the judge that there was absolutely no way he could convict Officer Slater.
Dunn: Right. And, that’s one of the things that we see, hung jurors, there’s something about the concept of finding a law enforcement officer liable for the shooting. Some jurors just feel like, for them to vote for a conviction, that, that would somehow be seen as an attack on the good work that the men and women of local law enforcement agencies do. This juror simply would not under any circumstances, find this officer guilty. And the concept is unquestionably, it’s because of his identity as a former law enforcement officer that this juror felt that it would be somehow wrong, not withstanding the video evidence, not withstanding the lie, not withstanding the police report that has nothing to do with reality. It would somehow be wrong for him to vote against this officer.
Johndras: These are attitudes that we see in many of the civil cases that we have done. There’s a deference when it’s reported to an officer by virtue of his position and the job that he does carries through to the concept of passing judgment on him for what is determined to be wrongdoing. Those attitudes I think are probably even more pronounced in terms of juries in criminal prosecutions. Because what’s at stake is not money. What is at stake is the freedom of this officer. So, you have an uphill battle in a civil case trying to get a jury to award compensation to an individual or the family of an individual who’s been injured or killed. I mean, when the stakes are putting an officer in prison for any amount of time. Those attitudes, I think are even more pronounced. There are some things the prosecution considers and even deciding whether or not charges should be filed against an officer in the first place.