When former police officer Michael Slager, who is accused of murdering an unarmed black man, took the stand in his own defense at his state murder trial this morning, he swore that the unarmed man was a threat and that he kept shooting him until the threat was over.
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Slager, who is white, is accused of killing Walter Scott at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina, when Slager was an officer for the city's police department. Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight.
Slager, 34, has pleaded not guilty to murder. Slager's attorneys have said the witness video doesn't show the whole struggle between Slager and Scott and does not give the perspective of events from Slager's point of view.
On the stand today, Slager told his defense attorney Andy Savage he repeatedly instructed Scott to get on the ground. Slager said he did not curse, did not use a racial epithet and did not do anything to indicate he was angry.
Slager said at one point Scott had control of the Taser and he was in fear. Slager told Savage that he warned Scott ahead of time before firing his Taser and firearm. Slager said Scott was a threat and that he kept shooting him until the threat was over.
Slager told the court that his life became a "roller coaster" after the deadly 2015 shooting.
"When I was in jail, the only thing they wanted to do was give me medicine to calm me down," Slager said. "They wouldn't even talk to me. I remember the doctor who was in charge of mental health came into my cell and said, 'I'll give you whatever medicine you want.'"
He continued, "My family's been destroyed by this. Scott's family has been destroyed by this. It's horrible."
Slager explained that he married his wife in 2010 and they were eager to start a family.
"I've always wanted a son or a daughter so due to some medical issues we had to do IVF," Slager said. But when his son was born, Slager said he did not attend. His attorney, Andy Savage, asked why, and after a long pause, Slager said, "I was in jail."
Savage asked, "For this case?" Slager responded, "Yes, sir."
During cross-examination, Slager told prosecutors that neither Scott nor his passenger was belligerent to him at the traffic stop. Slager said that Scott "stated that he owned the car, then he said he did not own the car, then he said he was in the process of buying it."
Slager said he didn't check Scott's criminal history and he did not know that Scott had a child support warrant.
When asked by the prosecution if Scott did anything to escalate the situation other than run, Slager said "No." When asked if Scott had done anything threatening other than trying to get away, Slager said, "No, not at that time."
Slager said he later told his supervisors that Scott took the Taser and came at him with it.
While he remembers some things about the encounter, "I don't remember everything that happened," Slager said.
"I don't remember Walter Scott's arm around my neck. I don't remember the ground fight," he added. "I don't remember dropping the Taser."
Slager said he had been Tased himself and that the natural reaction is "to get away." When asked by the prosecution if that was what Scott was doing, Slager said that Scott "wasn't complying the whole scenario...he never stopped after I gave him multiple commands to stop, even before the Tasing."
Slager did not specify in his testimony when he had been Tased.
"When Mr. Scott was coming after me with the Taser, I drew my weapon and fired," Slager said, adding that Scott "tried to Tase me with it when we were on the ground."
Slager said Scott was still coming at him with the Taser, so he made the decision to use lethal force.
"I fired my firearm until the threat was stopped," Slager said. He also told the prosecutor that he used "self-defense" that day.
"In this situation, with everything leading up to the shooting, I was tired," Slager said. "I ran the 200 yards, I was on a fight on the ground, Mr. Scott was coming after me with the Taser twice. My mind was like spaghetti."
The witness video of the shooting was filmed by Feidin Santana, who testified for the prosecution earlier this month. On the stand he recounted the moments before, during and after he witnessed the deadly shooting. Santana told the court he saw an officer chasing a black man, heard an "electric sound" -- later determined to be a Taser -- and saw the officer punch the man once the man was on the ground.
He said the black man, who he later learned was Scott, tried to get away from the Taser. The officer, who Santana identified in court as Slager, was on top of Scott, Santana testified.
Santana said Slager was holding onto Scott, but Scott was able to get away.
"After he got away ... [the officer] shoot the man running from him," Santana said. "And he shoot until he gets on the ground."
Slager faces 30 years to life if he is convicted, according to The Associated Press. A federal trial is scheduled for next year.