CHARLESTON, South Carolina—Former policeman Michael Slager said Tuesday he feared for his life and that his mind had turned to “spaghetti” when he shot an unarmed, fleeing black man five times in the back.
Slager took the stand in the waning days of his nearly month-long murder trial, offering his own account of his fatal struggle with motorist Walter Scott. Slager had pulled Scott over on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina, for a broken taillight. Scott fled the traffic stop, leading to a foot chase that involved a struggle, repeated use of a Taser, and Scott’s shooting death.
Days after the shooting, a bystander’s video of a portion of the incident emerged, leading to Slager’s firing from the police force and his arrest for murder. In that video, Scott is seen escaping Slager’s grasp, turning his back to the officer, and sprinting away before being shot dead.
Yet during testimony Tuesday, Slager described an opposite scenario, saying he was the one attempting to flee from Scott after the suspect grabbed his Taser and lunged at him.
Scott would not stop running or resisting the entire chase, Slager testified. As Slager tried to handcuff Scott, Slager said he was overpowered and that Scott ripped his Taser from his hands, sending fear through his body.
“I just knew I was going to lose the fight,” said Slager, who acknowledged that “some of that’s really fuzzy in my mind.”
Rather than lose the fight, Slager unholstered his police-issued .45-caliber Glock.
“I pulled my firearm and pulled the trigger,” said Slager. “I fired until the threat was stopped like I’m trained to do.”
During cross-examination, prosecutors challenged this account and highlighted discrepancies between Slager’s statements and video evidence, noting that Scott is not seen holding the Taser.
Prosecutor Bruce DuRant aggressively questioned Slager’s actions after the shooting as captured on video. This included inquiring why Slager jogged away from Scott’s dead body to pick his Taser up off the ground and then drop it beside Scott’s body before soon picking it back up again.
Slager acknowledged his actions on the video but said he didn’t remember moving the Taser, attributing his failed memory to his excited emotional state.
“I don’t know why I dropped it on the ground, but I picked it up a few seconds later,” he testified.
The prosecution, who earlier in the trial had intimated that Slager may have tampered with the crime scene, did not appear to be convinced.
“It seems like you’re just not remembering the things that are bad for you,” said DuRant.
DuRant asked why Slager did not his gun trained on Scott as he approached the slain suspect to handcuff him, given the fact that Slager had been scared for his life and did not know if Scott was armed and alive or dead.
“My mind was like spaghetti,” said Slager, claiming he was disoriented after wrestling with Scott and sprinting after him.
DuRant quizzed Slager about why he did not initially disclose more details of his supposed struggle with Scott to state police investigators and how he erroneously remembered the fallen Taser as resting between him and the slain suspect when video evidence shows it lying behind the men.
DuRant then called Slager out from behind the witness stand to demonstrate with him the final moments of Scott’s life. Stretching 18 feet of a measuring tape between them—the distance from which Slager fired his first shot—DuRant wondered aloud how Slager could have felt intimidated by the fleeing and distant Scott, whom Slager claimed only moments earlier was threatening to stab and stun him with a Taser at close range.
“Mr. Scott never stopped, he was always dangerous,” said Slager. “I [unholstered my weapon and shot] as fast as I could.”
The defense rested at the end of Tuesday’s court session. The murder trial resumes Wednesday and closing arguments are expected soon.