A bill that seeks to equip South Carolina cops with body cameras was signed into law Wednesday in the hometown of the North Charleston man who was shot in the back and killed by a policeman as he fled.
Walter Scott became a household name and a rallying cry for proponents of police body cameras after the release of a passerby’s cellphone video of his shooting death by North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager, who has since been charged with murder.
The law once dubbed the Walter Scott bill went into effect no longer bearing his name because of opposition by some House Republicans. Rep. Anne Thayer, R-Belton, said Republican women in the House wanted Scott’s name stripped from the bill because he was behind in child-support payments.
With many single mothers struggling to make ends meet and feed their children, Thayer said Wednesday the lawmakers who objected didn’t believe it was appropriate to name a law after him.
Thayer said none of the House members intended any disrespect to Scott or his family members, several whom attended the ceremony outside the Felix C. Davis Community Center at which Gov. Nikki Haley’s signed the bill into law.
“I just felt like we needed to look at if we were going to name (the bill), name it appropriately,” Thayer said. “As far as the body cameras, in my mind this just isn’t about protecting the people that the police are pursuing. This is about protecting the police officers also.”
Charleston Democratic Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who helped shepherd the Senate bill through the House, said he didn’t insist on retaining Scott’s name on the bill because he didn’t want to risk seeing the bill defeated.
“I wanted to make sure the bill made it out because I wanted to keep my commitment to the family,” Gilliard said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have that bill because they planned to kill it.”
Scott’s family attorney, Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, said Scott’s name did not go down in vain; his death served as a catalyst to get legislation passed.
“The family is disappointed that the bill is no longer named after Walter,” Bamberg said in a written statement. “However, they understand that this body camera legislation is much bigger than any one incident.”
Scott’s mother, Judy, said after the bill was signed that she was thankful for those who saw it through.
“It will expose not just the cops but individuals, because all cops are not bad cops,” Judy Scott said. “And some people are not very good people. Each side needs to be exposed.”
Haley signed the bill surrounded by lawmakers, Scott’s family members, community leaders and police officers.
“We were devastated and felt a little betrayed by one of our own,” Haley said. “This is about saying: ‘We don’t ever want a day like that to happen again’.”
The bill had been proposed before the legislative session even began in January, but had languished in committee and was given little chance of passing until the video showed Scott’s final moments — shot several times in the back after a brief struggle as ran from the officer who had pulled him over for a traffic infraction.
The law gives law enforcement agencies nine months to create policies governing the use of body cameras, which would then be reviewed by the state Law Enforcement Training Council. Once the polices are approved, police departments and other law enforcement agencies could apply for state funding for the cameras next year.
Agencies that decided to buy cameras for their officers would also be eligible for the state grants.
The delay gives lawmakers an extra year to find money to pay for the cameras. Several agencies across the state have already started equipping their officers with body cameras, including Mount Pleasant, Charleston and North Charleston.
Charleston Democratic Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who co-sponsored the bill, acknowledged Wednesday that there wasn’t a lot of support for the bill from law enforcement agencies initially, but lawmakers encouraged officers to share their experiences so that a bill with broad support could be passed.
“The whole purpose of the bill is to have transparency for those officers who come in contact with citizens,” Kimpson said.
The bill, however, heavily restricts when the videos can be released to the public because of concerns over privacy.
Hartsville Democratic Sen. Gerald Malloy, sponsor of the bill, stressed it was a work in progress, and that South Carolina would be the first state in the nation to have a uniform policy for all agencies.
“This product is not a perfect product, but it’s pretty expansive,” Malloy said. “The transparency is going to be there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.