When Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in South Carolina last year after being pulled over for a broken taillight and taking off on foot, it became another flash point in the long national debate over policing, police brutality, and the killing of black men by the cops. Except this time, there seemed little room for ambiguity thanks to a video that captured the officer, Michael Slager, shooting Scott in the back multiple times as the victim ran away. Even the most ardent police apologist couldn't justify that, right?
Slager was quickly fired and charged with murder, and if nothing else, the case seemed to clarify the new standard for charging cops over the deaths of unarmed civilians in America. The standard being: If you shoot and kill someone while they are fleeing, and said vile act is captured on video, you are probably going to be charged with a crime, and might even see prison. Even if you're a cop.
But the jurors—11 white, one black—tasked with deciding Slager's fate had a tough time of it. As the Guardian reports, the judge overseeing the state case against the former cop (a separate trial on federal charges is pending) twice rejected mistrial requests and urged the jury to keep deliberating despite the specter of a hopeless deadlock. After they mulled it over for roughly 22 total hours, however, the case was deemed a mistrial late Monday afternoon, the Post and Courier reports,
Accounts on Friday suggested a lone (white) person was holding the jury back from convicting Slager, but it has since been reported that, somehow, a majority of the panel may have been undecided on charges. Which seems crazy—the video of Scott's killing shows that clearly the man wasn't a threat to the cop—but that's where we are. Complicating things a bit is that the jury had to decide between murder and manslaughter charges, and determine whether Slager's story that the men scuffled and Scott reached for his Taser was remotely plausible. (It wan't—again, there is video clearly showing he was gunned down in the back while running away.)
In theory, state prosecutors could try to convict Slager again. And if nothing else, the massively depressing failure to imprison him here is made slightly less so by the promise of his upcoming federal trial, which carries a maximum sentence of life behind bars. But that's precious little consolation given the potential for President-elect Donald Trump's Justice Department not to move ahead with the case.
This post has been updated.