Murder indictment for officer who shot fleeing black man

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- It didn't take long for a grand jury in South Carolina to indict a white former city policeman for murder in the shooting death of a black man who tried to flee from a traffic stop.

State investigators presented the case against former North Charleston officer Michael Slager to a Charleston County grand jury on Monday and prosecutor Scarlett Wilson announced the indictment a few hours later.

A bystander's cellphone video shows Slager firing eight times as 50-year-old Walter Scott tried to run away on April 4. The killing enflamed a national debate about how black people are treated by white police officers.

But it caused no unrest in North Charleston, where community leaders and Scott's family praised the government's swift response. Slager was charged with murder by state law enforcement agents and fired from the police force immediately after Scott's family released the video.

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Murder indictment for officer who shot fleeing black man
Former North Charleston Police officer Michael Slager talks with his attorney Andy Savage before a hearing in front of Judge Clifton Newman in Charleston, S.C., Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. The state judge approved bail Monday for a former South Carolina police officer charged with killing an unarmed black motorist. (Brad Nettles/The Post and Courier via AP, Pool)
CHARLESTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Slager (left) stands as defense attorney Cameron Blazer guides him toward the podium to speak in circuit court for the first time at the Charleston County Court House September 11, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Former North Charleston officer Slager is charged with the murder of Walter Scott after shooting Scott in the back during a traffic stop on April 4, 2015. (Photo by Leroy Burnell - Pool/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Slager ( center ) at the podium on Friday the former North Charleston police officer spoke in court for the first time to circuit Judge Clifton Newman on September 11, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Former North Charleston officer Slager is charged with the murder of Walter Scott after shooting Scott in the back during a traffic stop on April 4, 2015. (Photo by Leroy Burnell - Pool/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 10: Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager (C) is lead into court for a bond hearing at the Charleston County Court House September 10, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Slager is charged with the murder of Walter Scott. Slager shot Scott in the back when Scott ran away during a traffic stop on April 4th in 2015. (Photo by Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images)

In this image from video, Walter Scott struggles with police officer Michael Thomas Slager in Charleston, S.C., on April 4, 2015. Moments later, the video shows Slager firing eight shots at Scott's back. Scott's death was shown around the world and he became a symbol of the ongoing debate over police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. (Feidin Santana via AP Images)

In this April 4, 2015, frame from dashboard video provided by the North Charleston Police Department, Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager stands by Walter Lamer Scott's car during a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C. The video captures the moments leading up to a fatal shooting that has sparked outrage as the latest example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. Slager has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/North Charleston Police Department)
In this April 4, 2015, frame from dash cam video provided by the North Charleston Police Department, Walter Lamer Scott leaves his car after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C. The video captures the moments leading up to a fatal shooting that has sparked outrage as the latest example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. The officer, Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/North Charleston Police Department)
In this April 4, 2015, frame from dash cam video provided by the North Charleston Police Department, Walter Lamer Scott leaves his car after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C. The video captures the moments leading up to a fatal shooting that has sparked outrage as the latest example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. The officer, Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/North Charleston Police Department)
In this April 4, 2015, frame from dash cam video provided by the North Charleston Police Department, Walter Lamer Scott, left, appears to run away from Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C. The video captures the moments leading up to a fatal shooting that has sparked outrage as the latest example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. Slager has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/North Charleston Police Department)
This photo provided by the Charleston County, S.C., Sheriff's Office shows Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Slager has been charged with murder in the shooting death of a black motorist after a traffic stop. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told a news conference that city Slager was arrested and charged Tuesday after law enforcement officials saw a video of the shooting following a Saturday traffic stop. (AP Photo/Charleston County Sheriff's Office)
Rodney Scott, left, and his brother, Anthony Scott, appear at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. The brother of the two men, Walter Lamer Scott, was shot and killed by a white North Charleston police officer following a traffic stop in that city on April 4. Authorities announced Tuesday that the officer has been charged with murder in the case. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 10: A passer-by looks on at the site where Walter Scott was killed on April 4th by a North Charleston police officer on April 10, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Scott was killed by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager after a traffic stop and the officer now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 10: A memorial is seen through a fence marking the site where Walter Scott was killed on April 4th by a North Charleston police officer on April 10, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Scott was killed by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager after a traffic stop and the officer now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Jerome Flood, of James Island, S.C., pauses for a moment of silence at the scene the killing of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer Saturday after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C., Friday, April 10, 2015. Scott was best man at Flood's wedding and Flood said he wanted to see where it happened. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Tiffany Williams (C), a childhood friend of Walter Scott, the 50-year-old man who was shot as he ran away from an officer after a traffic stop, is hugged by Project Street Outreach Manager Denise Cromwell, as she breaks down while visiting the spot where Scott was killed in Charleston, South Carolina on April 9, 2015. The shooting is America's latest high-profile police killing of a black man by white officers. A string of such shootings of unarmed victims, where officers are rarely charged, have sparked protests around the country with demonstrators alleging racism in the nation's police forces.  (Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Joe Gilliard, of Summerville, S.C., looks over a fence toward the scene where Walter Scott was killed by a North Charleston police officer Saturday after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday, April 9, 2015. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Chasyn Carter, right, of North Charleston, S.C., embraces Candice Ancrum, of Summerville, S.C., during a candlelight vigil outside city hall protesting the shooting death of Walter Lamer Scott, Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. Scott was killed by a North Charleston police office after a traffic stop on Saturday. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
(photo credit: South Carolina Law Enforcement Division)
Demonstrators pause for a moment of silence to protest the shooting death of Walter Scott at city hall in North Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Scott was killed by a North Charleston police office after a traffic stop on Saturday. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been charged with murder. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Video captured by a bystander showed officer Michael Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Officer Slager has been charged with murder as a result of the incident. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
After watching the video, the senseless shooting and taking of #WalterScott's life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable. (1/2)
My heart aches for the family and our North Charleston community. I will be watching this case closely. (2/2)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Video captured by a bystander showed officer Michael Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Officer Slager has been charged with murder as a result of the incident. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Video captured by a bystander showed officer Michael Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Officer Slager has been charged with murder as a result of the incident. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: A family friend of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, breaks down during a rally outside City Hall on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Video captured by a bystander showed officer Michael Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Officer Slager has been charged with murder as a result of the incident. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
Recap of the press conference: https://t.co/342hrODMkF #WalterScott
RT @celmorePC: Chief Driggers and other officers standing by #chsnews #WalterScott http://t.co/0lR9xN2EZg
Anthony Scott holds a photo of himself, center, and his brothers Walter Scott, left, and Rodney Scott, right, as he talks about his brother at his home near North Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Walter Scott was killed by a North Charleston police officer after a traffic stop on Saturday. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been charged with murder. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Officer Michael Slager fired 8 shots toward #WalterScott, Attorney says 4 hit him, 2 fatal: http://t.co/y8mqwG3zD6 http://t.co/LkwfB2SwQc
A man holds a sign during a protest for the shooting death of Walter Scott at city hall in North Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Scott was killed by a North Charleston police officer after a traffic stop on Saturday. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been charged with murder. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Anthony Scott, left, hugs visitors outside his home near North Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Scott's brother Walter Scott, was killed by a North Charleston police officer after a traffic stop on Saturday. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been charged with murder. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Video captured by a bystander showed officer Michael Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Officer Slager has been charged with murder as a result of the incident. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Video captured by a bystander showed officer Michael Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Officer Slager has been charged with murder as a result of the incident. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 10: (L-R) Andrew Gordon, Mr. Turner and Swerve wear shirts reading, ' Don't Shoot Me', on the front and, 'While My Back is Turned' on the back, during a vigil in front of the North Charleston City Hall for Walter Scott on April 10, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Scott was killed on April 4 by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager after a traffic stop. The officer now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Robert Jackson holds a sign during a protest in shooting death of Walter Scott at city hall in North Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Scott was killed by a North Charleston police office after a traffic stop on Saturday. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been charged with murder. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 12: Rev. Jeremy Rutledge and his son look at a memorial built on the site where Walter Scott was killed by a North Charleston police officer, April 12, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Scott was shot and killed on April 4, 2015 by officer Michael T. Slager, who now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 11: The flag drapped coffin of Walter Scott is carried by pallbearers to his burial site at the Live Oak Memorial gardens cemetery, after he was fatally shot by a North Charleston police officer after fleeing a traffic stop in North Charleston on April 11, 2015 Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Scott was killed on April 4 by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager after a traffic stop. The officer now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 12: The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a church service at Charity Missionary Baptist Church on April 12, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Sharpton addressed the congregation on issues surrounding the recent fatal shooting of Walter Scott by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager, who now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 10: People attend a vigil in front of the North Charleston City Hall for Walter Scott on April 10, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Scott was killed on April 4 by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager after a traffic stop. The officer now faces murder charges. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 09: North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey bows his head in prayer before a City Council meeting on April 9, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The City Council held their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, with the addition of a two minute speech by Muhiydin Moye D'Baha of the Black Lives Matter movement on the recent shooting of Walter Scott by North Charleston Police Officer Michael T. Slager. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 08: North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey answers questions during a press conference after the shooting death of an unarmed African Amerian man by police on April 8, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The mayor announced that the officer, Michael Slager, has been fired and charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott after a traffic stop on April 4. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
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The indictment of Slager is the fourth in less than six months in which a grand jury in South Carolina has agreed that white officers should stand trial in the shootings of black men.

The grand jury that reviewed the shooting of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, met weekly for three months, hearing from 60 witnesses. Saint Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch then spoke nearly 45 minutes, describing how jurors "poured their hearts and souls into this process" before deciding not to indict anyone in Brown's death. Angry protests and riots ensued.

When riots in Baltimore followed the death in police custody of another young black man, Freddie Gray, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers with crimes and then spent two weeks presenting evidence to a grand jury that affirmed nearly all the charges. "To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment," Mosby said in a passionate speech.

Wilson, by contrast, made no speeches. She called reporters to her office to announce the indictment, and made very few comments.

Asked about the importance of the cellphone video of Scott's death, she acknowledged that it's helpful to have evidence that "depicts the crime, and we aren't having to rely just on people's perceptions."

That said, "just because you have video in a case doesn't mean it's the be-all and end-all and the case is over," she said. "The jury will be able to make up their own mind after seeing the video and hearing the testimony."

Slager said he initially tried to stun Scott with his Taser when both men scuffled over the stun gun and he fired his handgun at Scott in self-defense. The video shows the men briefly scuffling before Scott runs away and the officer fires at Scott's back.

Slager, 33, faces 30 years to life without parole if convicted. Wilson said the death penalty doesn't apply because there are no aggravating circumstances such as robbery or kidnapping.

His defense lawyer, Andy Savage, said he won't comment "until we have an opportunity to fully evaluate the state's case and to compare it with our own investigation."

Walter Scott's brother Rodney Scott said the family is "very happy and pleased" with the indictment.

"This is just an example of if you keep the faith, even in the darkest times, you will see the light," said Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Scott's family who is preparing to file wrongful death civil suit against the city.

"We are going to patiently wait for the criminal trial in this case and we are going to patiently wait to see if the city, the police department and the chief are going to take responsibility in the civil suit," Stewart added.

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