Now that a dash cam video and a new witness have emerged from the day Walter Scott was killed, a new question has also emerged: Could either affect whether a former South Carolina police officer gets convicted of murder?
The dash cam footage shows Officer Michael Slager talking calmly to Scott during a traffic stop for a brake light that was out. Scott says he has no insurance on the vehicle, and Slager returns to his car to do paperwork.
Moments later, Scott gets out of his car and bolts. A foot chase ensues. Scott never reappears on the dash cam video, but a witness later takes video of the officer shooting Scott several times in the back as he is running away.
Many say the footage does nothing to justify Slager shooting the unarmed man in the back.
“Nothing in this video demonstrates that the officer’s life or the life of another was threatened,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said. “The question here is whether the use of force was excessive.”
On Thursday, a new witness emerged in the case. Gwen Nichols told CNN’s Brian Todd that she saw a scuffle between Scott and Slager at the entrance to a vacant lot.
“It was like a tussle type of thing, like, you know, like, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘What did I do?’ type of thing,” Nichols said. “I didn’t hear Mr. Slager saying: ‘Stop!’ ”
Criminal defense attorney Paul Callan says he believes Slager’s defense will play up the scuffle in arguing that this is not a murder case.
“Defense attorneys will say this was a heat of passion shooting — [that] this was something that he did suddenly after some kind of an altercation, a physical altercation with a suspect,” Callan said. “And that would constitute manslaughter under law, as opposed to murder, and it makes a huge difference in sentencing.”
In South Carolina, a murder conviction requires “malice aforethought,” Callan said. Some other states say a murder requires premeditation.
Slager, who has been fired from the North Charleston Police Department, faces up to life in prison or the death penalty if he is convicted of murder.
The dash cam video also shows a passenger in Scott’s car, but it’s not clear who that person is.
The passenger’s name wasn’t in a police report obtained by CNN. But an officer who responded to the scene said in the report that the passenger was detained and placed in the back seat of a police car.
Scott family attorney Chris Stewart told CNN the man with Scott was a co-worker and friend. But he did not identify the friend by name.
Many have asked why Scott decided to run away from the traffic stop. Justin Bamberg, an attorney for the Scott family, speculated that Scott might have been concerned about child support issues.
Scott owed back payments on child support totaling $18,104.43, according to Charleston County Family Court documents obtained by CNN. He had a bench warrant issued against him for failure to pay at the time he was stopped by Slager.
But Bamberg was adamant that the dash cam video does not alter what happened.
“This dash cam footage does not change the fact that at the moment the officer shot and killed Mr. Scott — that shooting was completely unjustified,” he said.
The investigation has been turned over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED.
Many have speculated that were it not for Feidin Santana’s three-minute cell phone video showing the shooting, the world might not have known exactly how Scott was killed.
But in a statement released Thursday, SLED said its investigators found troubling inconsistencies from the very start.
“We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in that encounter,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement. “The cell phone video shot by a bystander confirmed our initial suspicions.”
Santana told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he was walking to work when he saw Slager on top of Scott, who was on the ground. He said he could hear the sound of a Taser in use.
Santana said he didn’t see Scott go after the Taser, as Slager initially claimed. He says he believes Scott was trying to get away.
“Mr. Scott never tried to fight,” Santana said.
Neither the struggle nor the use of a Taser was captured on video, because Santana started recording shortly after that.
His video shows Scott running away from Slager before the officer aims his gun. Slager fires eight shots toward Scott, striking him five times.
While the initial traffic stop may have seemed to be perfectly normal and professional, and the foot chase a reasonable choice, an analyst saw little justification for that last act.
“I’m not familiar with South Carolina police training, but I guarantee you that they do not teach to shoot a fleeing unarmed man in the back,” said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit.
There are several claims in the initial police reports that are not supported in Santana’s video. And there may be more to the investigation than just whether Scott’s killing was justified, CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
“If it’s determined that multiple officers attempted to cover for the shooting officer, and it’s shown that those reports were false, this will be a devastating blow for law enforcement everywhere,” he said.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Jason Carroll and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.