Frequently asked questions about the shooting video

Michael Slager

Q: Why was Walter Scott pulled over in the first place?

A: According to the officer's statement, Scott was pulled over because of a broken tail light.

Q: What is the officer's side of the story?

A: Officer Michael Slager said that Scott fled a routine traffic stop for an unspecified reason. Slager said he pursued Scott on foot and that the two became involved in a struggle as Scott attempted to overpower Slager, taking his Taser. Slager said that this made him feel threatened, which is when he reached for his department-issued firearm and shot at Scott.

Most people who have viewed video of the altercation feel that the video strongly contradicts Slager's account.

Q: Who recorded the video?

A: Feidin Santana.

Santana told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt that he was walking to his job and on the phone when he noticed something happening. He made the decision to record the video, which he would later give to the Scott's family's attorney.

Q: Is this similar to what happened in Ferguson, Mo.?

A: The basic circumstances of both cases are similar: Both involve an unarmed black man being shot to death by a white police officer, both the North Charleston and Ferguson police departments are significantly whiter than the population they police, and both highlight complex issues of racial justice in America. This has led to comparisons between the cases.

There are also key differences, specifically the existence of clear video evidence and the response of local and state authorities.

In Ferguson, local officials' intransigence and slow responses created distrust among the wider community, while conflicting eyewitness accounts resulted in highly polarized opinions.

North Charleston's response, by comparison, was fairly swift and decisive.

Q: Are there rules for when police can fire at people? Were they broken here?

A: According to a 1985 Supreme Court ruling, police can fire on fleeing suspects only if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect will pose significant risk of harm to the officer or others. This is a broad authority given to officers, but legal experts familiar with this case say the shooting appears to lack justification.

Q: Did the officer try to plant his Taser on Scott after shooting him?

A: In the video, it does appear that Slager picks up an object and places it near Scott's body. This object could be Slager's Taser or some component of it, but it is not possible to positively identify the object from the video alone, so this claim is mostly speculative at this point.

Q: What will happen next to the officer?

A: Slager is in custody and will remain there until a circuit judge holds a hearing to possibly set his bail. A date has not yet been set for this hearing.

Q: Is he likely to be convicted?

A: Every case is unique and the evidence against Slager seems strong. In general, however, it is very unusual for police officers to be convicted of murder in cases involving the use of deadly force, based on what limited statistics are available on the topic. The presence of video evidence does seem to sway juries, though.

Q: How often do things like this happen?

A: There are no reliable statistics available for officer-involved shootings in the United States. Most local and state police departments do not regularly release this information. The federal government does gather some statistics on this issue, but their records are incomplete and widely regarded as unreliable.

Q: Why did the officer put handcuffs on Scott after he was clearly incapacitated?

A: It is technically proper protocol to handcuff individuals in such situations.

Q: Are body cameras the solution?

A: Maybe, but there are some shortcomings. Some body cameras can be turned off or have limited storage capacity, and this has led to cases where officers were involved in incidents where footage was unavailable. It is also too early to say if body cameras have a significant effect on the frequency or outcomes of officer-involved shootings.

Q: Who investigates cases like this?

A: In South Carolina, there is no law requiring an outside agency to investigate officer-involved shootings. The generally accepted practice is for the State Law Enforcement Division to be called in to investigate.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said where the man who shot the cellphone video works.