Two tragedies. Two months apart.
The family of Walter Scott took their first steps toward healing Thursday with the families of the Emanuel AME Church shooting victims heavy on their hearts.
“Innocent people in the church; that’s senseless murder and then this shooting here was a senseless murder and I don’t know whether to tie them, but I know this right here: the pain is the same,” said Anthony Scott, the brother of the man who was fatally shot in the back in April by a North Charleston police officer.
It was Scott’s third time visiting the place where his brother took his last breath, but it was the first for his mother.
The two held hands with several other family members in tow as they gathered near Craig and Remount roads in North Charleston to commemorate three months without their loved one.
“It’s hard trying to face it with my mom and my dad because I, for the longest time, have tried to keep them away from this site,” Scott said. “But I know closure has to come. We’re getting closer to that time where we have to face it and look (at) it head on.”
A bystander’s cellphone video showed Michael Slager, a North Charleston patrolman at the time, shooting at Walter Scott eight times from behind. Scott, 50, was running away after what authorities and Slager’s previous attorney said was a struggle over the officer’s Taser.
Slager, 33, who is charged with murder, has been jailed since his arrest three days after the shooting. Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, has not requested a chance for his client to post bail.
Christopher Stewart of Atlanta, a Scott family attorney who was with them Thursday at the shooting site, said they are still gathering evidence in the case, but are not focusing solely on Slager.
“What we’re figuring out is that this just should have been prevented,” he said as Scott’s mother, Judy, cried in the background. “Officer Slager’s actions before this should have been better monitored by his supervisors.”
Stewart previously said a federal suit he plans to file likely will look at Slager’s history and the “general practices of the department as a whole.”
Slager had not been disciplined in his more than five years with the North Charleston Police Department, but he now faces at least three lawsuits in incidents involving his Taser use, including the run-in with Scott. Slager had fired his Taser at suspects 12 times in his police career, according to documents obtained by The Post and Courier.
The paperwork showed a rapid increase in Taser episodes in 2014, when he used the device six times.
Stewart said they plan to go after “the people who are responsible” for Slager in an environment where he would feel comfortable to shoot a man in the back.
“You have to have learned that from somewhere,” he said. “You have learned that you could get away with lying on a report of covering something up somewhere. So we’re going to get to the root cause of the problem, of the situation because no family should have to go through this.”
Judy Scott was too emotional to speak Thursday. She stood in front of the overgrown field where her son was killed staring through a chain-link fence and sobbing as other family members tried to console her.
The place that was once covered in flowers and messages of hope now sits empty and enclosed by a fence that doesn’t allow visitors too close. Only a small dirt circle where the grass hasn’t grown back now marks the spot where Scott died.
Stewart said visiting the area was important to the family in light of all that had happened recently in Charleston, including the shooting at Emanuel.
“It’s important to close the wound by fully coming out here and seeing where it happened, and it’s important for the family to always get together and come together and do things like this,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is forget about somebody and we refuse to let that happen in this situation.”
Anthony Scott said his heart goes out to the Emanuel shooting victims’ loved ones and asked that the community also continue praying for his family.
“I think there needs to be some healing in Charleston,” he said. “We’ve been through a tough time here, one (shooting) behind the other.”
Not more than an hour after he stood and remarked about the pain his family was experiencing, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. Scott said while the gesture won’t bring healing to his family, he believes it will help others.
“The flag doesn’t signify the death of the people, but it’s what’s in the hearts of man,” he said. “I think that’s the thing that makes a big difference right now, what’s in the hearts.”
He also said that a recent visit from President Barack Obama, who also met with the Emanuel victims’ families, was comforting to an extent but didn’t feel good under the circumstances.
“At the end of the day, that’s what I was thinking about,” he said. “It’s an honor to meet the President of the United States, but the reason I’m here meeting the president today is because of the death of my brother. They don’t warrant one another; they just don’t balance.”
Scott added that his family was “holding on” and that they were going to remain strong.
“(We’re going to) continue to believe in God, that God is going to bring us through and hopefully, the family will definitely receive justice at the end of the day because that’s exactly where we’re going,” he said. “It’s a really sad thing to be here today, but we’re going to be OK. We’re going to make it.”
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.