Man suing North Charleston police, Slager for Taser incident urges others to speak out

Charleston attorney Nicholas Clekis (left) stands by as his client, Julius Wilson, talks about a 2014 confrontation with North Charleston police officer Michael Slager in which Wilson says he was wrongfully shot with a Taser.

An attorney for a North Charleston man had shelved the idea of a lawsuit against the police officer who allegedly shot his client in the back with a Taser last year. But a video showing Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager shooting .45-caliber bullets into a different man’s back changed that.

Now that his attorney has filed a lawsuit, 35-year-old Julius Garnett Wilson said Monday that he wants other residents to speak out against alleged abuses by “all bad, corrupt cops.”

Wilson, a felon, initially refused to get out of his car during the Aug. 25 traffic stop, but he said he had stopped resisting and was pinned to the ground when Slager used the Taser. What he endured, he said, should not be tolerated.

“In my lifetime, I have witnessed violent acts by police officers,” he said. “Without proof of such acts, the word of police officers is always taken over the word of the victims forced to endure their violent acts.”

He and his attorneys, Nicholas Clekis and John Gentry III of Charleston, stood in front of City Hall on Monday and discussed the ordeal with news media. Wilson, who has a history of drug arrests and a conviction for interfering with police, did not file an internal complaint about the encounter until after the April 4 shooting death of 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, which was captured on video.

A spokesman for the North Charleston Police Department has declined to discuss Wilson’s case.

Clekis said that his client’s civil rights were violated.

“With all the media coverage in Mr. Scott’s shooting,” Gentry added, “the practices and procedures of use of force by police across the country is being brought into question.”

The move comes after attorneys for another local man, 34-year-old Mario Givens, said last week they would likely sue Slager and the police for a 2013 incident in which Givens said he was unfairly hit with a Taser. That episode was not caught on video.

A dashboard camera video in Wilson’s case shows officer Bradley Woods stopping his car around 4 a.m. that day near Cosgrove Avenue and Remus Street. The officer explains why he had stopped Wilson.

“We’ve had some recent burglaries and robberies in this area,” Woods says, “We’ve had about 20, 25 shootings since the beginning of the year. The reason why I stopped you is your (left) brake light’s not working.”

Residents have long complained that the police department’s aggressive patrolling and stops for minor traffic offenses have unfairly affected black communities.

Woods later determined that Wilson’s S.C. driver’s license had been suspended. With Slager and another officer backing him up, he asks Wilson to get out of the vehicle.

Wilson refuses to do so because, he later explained, he had a valid Georgia license.

Woods unbuckles Wilson’s seat belt and helps the others pull him out of the car. Slager says in the video that Wilson was reaching for something near the center console, so Woods pulls out his .45-caliber Glock 21 and points it at the driver.

Wilson said Monday that he had been reaching for his cellphone. He stopped resisting after Woods drew a gun, he said.

The officers pull Wilson to the ground. Two of them jam their knees into his back, but the police later said Wilson then tried to reach for something he had dropped.

“Back up,” Slager yells. “I’m going to tase.”

Wilson kept refusing to put his hands behind his back, Slager wrote in his report.

“I turned on my Taser,” Slager wrote. “Wilson was struck in the back with the prongs.”

The officers later found Wilson’s broken cellphone and a wooden club near his car’s center console, their reports stated. Wilson’s attorneys later gathered footage from the phone.

“He almost got shot; I’m not lying,” an officer says. “But he advised I was being recorded. I said, ‘Cool; you are, too.’ ”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.