S.C. bill would require department policy for officer-involved deaths

In this image from video, Walter Scott struggles with police officer Michael Thomas Slager in Charleston on April 4. Moments later, the video shows Slager firing eight shots at Scott’s back. Scott’s death was shown around the world and he became a symbol of the ongoing debate over police shootings of unarmed blacks.

COLUMBIA — State senators gave unanimous key approval Thursday for a bill that would require police departments to have a written policy on how to handle officer-involved deaths.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, introduced the bill 10 days after Walter Scott was shot and killed in North Charleston by police officer Michael Slager last April. Malloy said the bill isn’t in direct response to the shooting, but rather the need for good public policy.

“We want to have something that gives the public confidence,” Malloy said. “People will know what is going to happen, in certain circumstances, so we’re not trying to create it as we’re going along. We’re going to know in advance.”

Officers from an outside agency would be required to investigate any officer-involved death. The bill would apply to deaths resulting from the actions or inactions of on- or off-duty law enforcement officers acting within the scope of their duties.

A report would be furnished to the solicitor in a timely manner and subject to the Freedom of Information Act if no basis exists to prosecute the officer.

Most police agencies in South Carolina already ask the State Law Enforcement Division to step in and investigate officer-involved shootings, though there is no requirement that they do so. Of large departments, only the Richland County Sheriff’s Department does its own investigations. Its sheriff, Leon Lott, has said he believes his department can do a better job than SLED. But critics of Lott’s stance, including Gov. Nikki Haley, say it’s wrong for agencies to investigate their own officers.

A separate bill, also introduced by Malloy, would make SLED the default investigative agency for any officer-involved shootings that could have or did result in injury or death.

Malloy said he is optimistic about the bill’s future in he House, after a perfunctory third reading in the Senate.