Nation

Critics call for 2nd officer to be prosecuted in Carolina shooting

Jay Johnson of Cincinnati placed a candle at a memorial during a vigil Sunday at the scene where Walter Scott was killed in North Charleston, S.C.
David Goldman/Associated Press
Jay Johnson of Cincinnati placed a candle at a memorial during a vigil Sunday at the scene where Walter Scott was killed in North Charleston, S.C.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — As questions were being raised about police conduct in the April 4 shooting death of Walter L. Scott, critics were calling for the prosecution of a second police officer for his actions in the episode.

After the shooting, an amateur video was made public showing a police officer, Michael T. Slager, firing eight rounds at Scott as he attempted to run away. Slager, who is white, has been charged with murder.

A second officer, Clarence Habersham, did not fire any rounds at Scott and arrived on the scene in North Charleston shortly after the confrontation between Scott and Slager. Scott, 50, who had been pulled over for a broken tail light, is believed to have run from his vehicle because he feared arrest over outstanding child-support obligations.

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In a two-sentence report filed after the shooting, Habersham, a black officer, wrote that he had “attempted to render aid to the victim by applying pressure to the gunshot wounds” and by helping to coordinate the emergency response.

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But the officer’s critics questioned his account and said video indicates that Habersham did little to aid Scott.

They also question whether Habersham omitted significant information from his report — for instance, that Slager dropped an item, possibly his Taser stun gun — near Scott after the shooting.

The National Bar Association, a mostly African-American legal group, said Friday Habersham participated in “an attempted coverup” of Scott’s death and should be charged.

“In his report, Habersham does not describe Slager’s actions but said that he gave aid to Scott and tried to give directions to the scene,” the group said in a statement. “However, there is no evidence on the video that shows Officer Habersham, or anyone else, administered CPR to Mr. Scott.”

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The Rev. Al Sharpton joined those urging the South Carolina authorities to prosecute Habersham.

“Given what I’ve seen, he certainly should be held accountable,” Sharpton said in an interview here Saturday night. “What charge, I don’t know. But certainly he should not walk away without facing some accountability in the criminal justice system.”

On Sunday, Sharpton spoke at a Baptist church in North Charleston before attending an afternoon vigil at the scene of the shooting. His comments could intensify debate about whether officers besides Slager should be prosecuted in connection with Scott’s death.

Habersham could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Slager was fired because of the shooting, and he has been held without bond at the Charleston County jail since his arrest Tuesday. He could be indicted as early as next month. Officials in North Charleston have not ruled out that other officers could be disciplined.

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The municipal authorities are not leading the criminal inquiry into the shooting; instead, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the episode.

Sharpton praised the mayor’s and the police chief’s swift action, saying such a response could set an example for handling future questions of police misconduct.

The response by city officials and the local community has been sharply different from that in Ferguson, Mo., where protests after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who shot him turned violent and exposed social rifts between black and white residents.

The service at the Charity Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon was part of North Charleston’s semiofficial day of public mourning. Mayor R. Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers were among the officials who attended events to memorialize Scott, whose funeral was held on Saturday in nearby Summerville.

“What happened here today is starting the healing that has to go on between communities,” Summey told reporters after the service. “And I think today was an example of a full explanation of how we have to react to things in life. We have to do what’s right, but then we need to come together to try to find ways to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Driggers, who said on Wednesday that an amateur video of the shooting had “sickened” him, declined to comment.

A small crowd later gathered at the site of the shooting for a prayer vigil. A spokesman for Scott’s survivors said no family members had attended Sunday’s events.

The conciliatory and united scenes here on Sunday came amid talk of larger protests of police practices. In the church’s vestibule, stacks of fliers calling for a Monday “mass demonstration against police brutality” awaited congregants as they left.

Most of the congregation had left the sanctuary at Charity Missionary after the service when yet another man approached Summey and embraced him. “Keep praying for me,” Summey said softly. “Keep praying for me.”