I’m in no way suggesting that witness Feidin Santana planned it this way when he shot the video, but the video is timed precisely to show that portion of the incident most damning to Slager. As the video opens we can hear the sound of a siren and that of a Taser being activated. We hear a voice, presumably Slager’s, saying something inaudible, followed by “I’ll shoot you.” When Slager and Scott come into view, at about 0:17 into the video, the two are an arm’s length apart, with Scott appearing to turn away and Slager reaching for his holstered pistol. The Taser wires, which connect the device to two darts fired from it, can be seen extending between Scott and Slager, and the Taser itself can be seen landing on the ground five to six feet behind Slager. Feidin Santana has said that Scott did not grab the Taser, but if he didn’t, how else to explain how it ended up on the ground behind Slager?
I suspect that Slager’s defense will be to claim that Scott did indeed grab the Taser, a claim not entirely unreasonable given where the device landed before the shooting. And I suspect he moved the Taser in a panicked attempt to bring the evidence into conformance with his mistaken perception of what had occurred. If a suspect gains control of an officer’s Taser and is preparing to use it against him, deadly force can be justified in defense. But once the threat has ended, so too must the use of deadly force. I think when Slager drew his weapon, he truly believed Scott still had the Taser. He had made the decision to fire, and he was unable to process the change in circumstances that made the use of deadly force unreasonable and therefore unlawful.
And this is where Slager all but shredded his only potential defense. If he had left the crime scene undisturbed, if he had allowed the evidence to speak for itself, any presence of Scott’s DNA on the Taser could only be explained by his having grabbed it as Slager claimed. As things now stand, if Scott’s DNA is found on the Taser, prosecutors can argue it was transferred by Slager’s handling of it after handcuffing Scott. In acting as he did, Slager not only destroyed his own credibility, he tainted the very forensic evidence that might have supported his already weak claim of self-defense.
Whatever Slager’s crimes, there is still a moral distinction to be made between a cop who errs, even as catastrophically as he did, and someone who kills in the course of a robbery or a gang feud or some other act of depravity. When the process has run its course, he will have earned the punishment the law prescribes for him. He has tarnished the police profession and made our job more difficult, but I cannot bring myself to hate him.
There is also a legal distinction between someone who kills in a premeditated fashion because, say, he hates rival gang members, and someone who uses deadly force unreasonably with an honest belief that he needed to use it. The former may be guilty of first-degree murder, while the latter may be guilty only of voluntary manslaughter. (Whether Slager had such an honest belief depends on the entirety of the evidence, but it is not an absurd notion.) These is also a distinction between a killer with no job-related duty to detain the decedent, who encounters no physical force from the decedent, and someone like Slager who does have such a duty to catch bad guys, who seems to have encountered resistance and force along the way.
To me, there are still unanswered questions. I have seen posts such as this one claiming that perhaps the Taser wire in the video was hanging off of Slager and not Scott — suggesting that Scott may have Tased Slager. The post in question has a picture of Slager with his left pants leg rolled up, as if he is showing an injury. I don’t know whether the analysis holds water or not, but it’s worth thinking about. I am not aware of whether Slager claimed that he was actually Tased himself (I see people confidently asserting what his claims are, or are not, but I am not sure what the basis for these confident assertions are), but I think that issue could be relevant to his state of mind. So yes, I persist in stubbornly refusing to leap to the confident judgments that most of the rest of the world has leapt to.
I think Dunphy has good insights here, but then, he always does.