A man who said he was shot in the back with a stun gun by former police officer Michael Slager while other officers held him down filed a lawsuit Friday in what could be the first of a wave of civil complaints against the North Charleston Police Department.
Julius Garnett Wilson, 35, said Slager shot him in the back as other North Charleston officers had him pinned to the ground during a 2014 traffic stop.
The complaint, on top of Slager being charged with murder this week in the shooting death of fleeing motorist Walter Scott, is likely to be just the beginning of the lawsuits the city will face, legal experts say.
“People are angry and, as with this same officer and others, it may be justified,” Charleston School of Law professor Miller Shealy said Friday.
Not every case of alleged abuse will end up in a courtroom, Shealy said, pointing to the availability of witnesses and also the statute of limitations. But the fact that people in the community have faced “real or perceived” instances of abuse, it should put North Charleston on notice, he said.
Dashboard camera video showed the confrontation on Aug. 25 between Wilson, Slager and other officers, according to the lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas in Charleston.
Wilson’s attorney, John Gentry III of Charleston, said in the filing that his client had his hands above his head and wasn’t resisting the officers as they held him to the pavement.
But as two officers prepared to handcuff Wilson, Slager stood over the man and told the others, “Watch out! I’m going to tase!”
Wilson writhed in pain after Slager fired the Taser. He was arrested that day on a charge of driving with a suspended license, but the count was later dropped, according to the court paperwork.
The filing alleged federal civil rights claims and violations of state laws. In addition to the officers, the suit also names the North Charleston Police Department and Chief Eddie Driggers.
Gentry declined further comment Friday.
It alleged that officials did nothing to further investigate Wilson’s ordeal because they have an “unwritten policy of simply looking the other way” and are “indifferent to the past and current improper behavior of NCPD officers such as Slager.”
“This ‘looking the other way’ by the ‘powers that be’ within the NCPD and the city,” the suit stated, “fostered an environment where improper and unconscious conduct was condoned, tolerated and/or emboldened by” Driggers and other policymakers.
A city police spokesman declined comment.
At the time of the run-in, Wilson did not file an internal complaint. He has a history of driving with a suspended license and convictions for resisting arrest and a drug offense in 2008.
North Charleston will be in court on another traffic case later this week involving a black motorist and a white officer.
A hearing is set in the federal complaint in which a decorated soldier is suing the North Charleston Police Department claiming an officer unnecessarily deployed his stun gun on him after a traffic stop four years ago. Brian Knite Yates, 28, of Ladson claims he was wrongfully arrested and assaulted and his civil rights were violated by North Charleston police officer Christopher Terry, a charge the department’s attorney denies.