Prosecutors to review policies surrounding officer-involved shootings

A still from a video of a shooting in North Charleston, S.C. shows North Charleston Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager, 33, fire at 50-year-old Walter Scott as he runs away. Video still from an anonymous source via The Post and Courier.

COLUMBIA — The state will soon begin studying the way officer-involved shootings are handled in South Carolina and across the country.

The S.C. Prosecution Coordination Commission voted Thursday to create a task force that will look at how law enforcement officers are prosecuted when accused of a crime.

Commission Chairman 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said the study will try to find the best practices from prosecutors within the state and across the country for handling officer-involved shootings. He said he hopes to create an outline to show how such investigations should proceed.

South Carolina had a record 48 police-involved shootings last year. The tally includes the April 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer, who now faces a murder charge.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is heading the prosecution of former officer Michael Slager in Scott’s death.

Commission member and York Republican Rep. Tommy Pope said he is most interested in studying how to pinpoint whether a prosecutor has a conflict of interest when investigating police in the same district where the prosecutor serves. Pope, a former 16th Circuit Solicitor, said he likes the idea of solicitors referring cases involving law enforcement to another circuit.

“If I were still solicitor and someone in Charleston sent a case to me, I could make the harder decision because I’m not going to see the guys at the fire department barbecue,” he said.

The commission has broken into four committees that will study ethics, legislation, current prosecution practices and prosecutor involvement.

These working groups will collect data and present preliminary recommendations in November, in time to help guide potential bills that could be introduced when the session begins in January, Stone said.

Lawmakers considered two bills this year, but neither passed before their session ended in June.

One measure called for police departments to have a written policy on officer-involved deaths. A separate bill called for the State Law Enforcement Division to be the default investigative agency for officer-involved shootings.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.