Walter Scott's passenger retains attorney, identity still a mystery

SLED interviewed the passenger in Walter Scott's car, seen in the police video, and did not file charges. SLED declined to reveal any information about the passenger, citing privacy concerns.

The mystery passenger in the car Walter Scott drove has retained a Charleston attorney but has declined to go public.

Mark Peper confirmed late Friday that he represents the man, but he could not reveal his identity.

“At this point in time, I can only confirm that my office has been retained by the passenger in Mr. Scott’s vehicle,” he said. “In an effort to help the Scott family seek the justice they deserve, we provided (the State Law Enforcement Division) with a written statement earlier this afternoon.”

SLED did not subsequently file charges against the man, spokesman Thom Berry said Friday.

“He has asked that his name not be disclosed,” Berry said. “We have to respect his privacy.”

SLED declined to reveal any information about the passenger, citing that privacy concern. There also was no indication what the passenger saw of the fatal confrontation between Scott and North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager on April 4.

State law would allow the identity to be kept secret if releasing it would cause “an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy,” although whether that’s the case here is “a difficult question,” S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender said.

It’s possible SLED is concerned that the passenger might be threatened if the name were released, but citing privacy concerns “too often plays into the hands of cops,” Bender said. In general, it would be in the public interest to know what the passenger saw, he said.

Incident reports from North Charleston police obtained so far have not included the name of the passenger. Police have said it would be SLED’s job to release the name as the investigating agency.

Bender said any North Charleston police report that includes the passenger’s name should be released.

“Just because SLED has it doesn’t mean the incident report is not public record,” he said.

There was a warrant for Scott’s arrest for failure to pay child support, according to court records and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Scott would take long detours driving to his parent’s house to avoid police patrols on the more direct route, said Rodney Scott, his brother.

He had purchased the 1991 Mercedes a few days earlier from a neighbor to replace a hand-me-down van with a failing transmission. He was driving to an auto parts store when Slager pulled him over for what the officer said was a broken taillight.

When Scott saw the flashing lights, he called his mother to tell her he might be heading back to jail, Rodney Scott said.

On the police dash cam video, Slager can be heard asking Scott for his license and registration, then heading back to his cruiser. Scott tries to get out once, Slager says something and Scott sits back down. But moments later he runs.

The passenger remained seated. According to the police dash cam video and the North Charleston police incident report, the passenger didn’t leave the car until being escorted to a squad car.

The North Charleston officer who took charge of Slager’s vehicle in a nearby parking lot, J. Banias, filed a supplemental report that reads, “I also spoke to the passenger on the vehicle that was stopped. The passenger was also detained and placed in the back seat of my vehicle. I remained on the scene while SLED conducted an investigation. Nothing further.”

Dave Munday and The Associated Press contributed to this story.