Police and Law Enforcement

Mistrial declared in North Charleston police shooting case

Michael Slager claims he shot Walter Scott because he felt threatened after Scott grabbed his stun gun

 

A judge on Monday declared a mistrial after the jury remained deadlocked in the case of a white police officer charged with shooting a black driver in South Carolina last year.

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The defense in ex-patrolman Michael Slager's five-week trial argued that he feared for his life when 50-year-old Walter Scott got control of the officer's stun gun and pointed it at him. Slager was fired from the North Charleston police department after his confrontation with Scott on April 4, 2015 led to Scott's death.

The jury wrote in its final note: "Despite best efforts, we were unable to come to a unanimous decision."

A video of the killing — caught on a bystander's cellphone — was shared widely online and in the media and sparked national outrage. Slager faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. The jury also considered a lesser verdict of voluntary manslaughter.

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It's the second time in recent weeks a jury has deadlocked in an officer-involved shooting. A mistrial was declared Nov. 12 when a jury in Cincinnati couldn't reach a verdict in the case of a former campus police officer who was also charged with shooting a black motorist.

As the jury recessed for the weekend on Friday, it appeared only one juror stood in the way of a verdict. That juror had sent Circuit Judge Clifton Newman a letter saying that he could not "with good conscience approve a guilty verdict." The jury foreman later told Newman that he thought the jurors could still reach a verdict and deliberations continued.

Things changed drastically over the weekend break. On Monday, jurors sent a note to the judge indicating that "the majority" were still undecided on a verdict. They also posed numerous questions to the judge. They asked for clarification on why voluntary manslaughter was added as a possible verdict and whether the definition of self-defense for a police is different than for the average person.

Race was never made a major issue at trial, even though Slager is white and Scott was black. Jurors had deliberated more than 22 hours over four days.

Much of the testimony at the trial centered on the cellphone video, which at times was blurry and shaky. The jurors saw the video numerous times, including several times frame by frame.

The judge had rejected defense attorney Andy Savage's request for a mistrial on Friday.

"The note that was received Friday was unequivocal," Savage said. "This court is aware one or more of the jurors is unequivocally unwilling to vote for the guilt."

Newman initially let deliberations continue after the Monday note before dismissing the jury.

Last year, the city of North Charleston reached a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family. In the wake of the shooting, the city also asked that the U.S. Justice Department conduct a review of its police department policies with an eye toward how the department can improve its relationship with residents.

Slager also faces trial next year in federal court on charges of depriving Scott of his civil rights.

Fox News' Griff Jenkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.