Blacks blame shooting on police indifference to complaints 

click to enlarge Jeffrey Spell, of Charleston, S.C., places flowers at the scene where Walter Scott was killed by a North Charleston police officer Saturday, after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday, April 9, 2015. "I've worked in North Charleston for many years and I'm troubled by the whole thing. I thought it would be respectable," said Spell about why he brought the flowers. "Nationwide, the cops are killing people. There has to be other ways of making arrests," Spell said. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. - AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN
  • AP Photo/David Goldman
  • Jeffrey Spell, of Charleston, S.C., places flowers at the scene where Walter Scott was killed by a North Charleston police officer Saturday, after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday, April 9, 2015. "I've worked in North Charleston for many years and I'm troubled by the whole thing. I thought it would be respectable," said Spell about why he brought the flowers. "Nationwide, the cops are killing people. There has to be other ways of making arrests," Spell said. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder.

There is almost nothing in Michael Thomas Slager's police personnel file to suggest that his bosses considered him a bad apple, let alone a trigger-happy renegade. People in the community he served said Thursday that this is precisely the problem: the department does too little to scrutinize its officers and keep them in check.

In his five years with the North Charleston Police, supervisors consistently gave positive performance reviews to the officer now jailed for murder in the shooting of an unarmed black man who in the back. Slager had claimed self-defense, but he was swiftly charged and fired this week after the dead man's family released a bystander's video showing him shooting Walter Lamer Scott eight times as he ran away.

Slager's file includes just one excessive use-of-force complaint: A man said Slager used his stun gun against him without reason in 2013. But that internal investigation was quickly dismissed, exonerating Slager even though witnesses told The Associated Press they were never even contacted.

As a steady crowd left flowers, stuffed animals, notes and protest signs Thursday in the empty lot where Scott was gunned down, many people in South Carolina's third-largest city said police routinely dismiss their complaints of harsh treatment, even when eyewitnesses are available to attest to police misbehavior.

Residents say they've experienced so much petty brutality that they regard officers with a mixture of distrust and fear.

"We've had through the years numerous similar complaints, and they all seem to be taken lightly and dismissed without any obvious investigation," the Rev. Joseph Darby, vice president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Thursday.

Slager's new attorney, Andy Savage, said Thursday that he's conducting his own investigation into Saturday's shooting. His statement added that it's "far too early for us to be saying what we think."

Slager's original attorney, David Aylor, bowed out after asserting that Slager had followed all proper procedures before using deadly force, a version that quickly unraveled after the video came out. The former officer, whose wife is eight months pregnant, is being held without bond pending an Aug. 21 hearing.

Mario Givens, who alleged two years ago that Slager repeatedly and unnecessarily caused him excruciating pain with a Taser, told the AP Wednesday that he was dismayed to learn that Slager's file shows he was "exonerated" even though the internal investigation never sought his version.

"They never told me how they reached the conclusion. Never. They never contacted anyone from that night. No one from the neighborhood," Givens said.

Givens said he's convinced that Scott's death could have been prevented: "If they had just listened to me and investigated what happened that night, this man might be alive today."

Darby also wonders if Saturday's fatal shooting might have turned out differently had the department thoroughly investigated the 2013 Taser complaint.

"I think he would have been rebuked instead of fired," Darby said. "But maybe it changes the way he sees things."

Darby and other civil rights leaders want North Charleston to create an independent citizens review board to review complaints against police, since "law enforcement is going to almost always give itself the benefit of the doubt."

Such boards are few and far between in South Carolina.

North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said Wednesday that the department now plans to review Givens' complaint, although he wouldn't say what difference that could make now.

Givens, 33, told the AP that Slager woke him before dawn one morning by loudly banging on his front door, and saying "Come outside or I'll tase you!"

"I didn't want that to happen to me, so I raised my arms over my head, and when I did, he tased me in my stomach anyway," Givens said.

Slager wrote in his report, obtained by The AP through a public-records request, that he could not see one of Givens' hands and feared he might be holding a weapon.

As it turns out, Givens' arrest was a case of mistaken identity. After witnesses said he was tased, dragged outside, thrown to the ground, tased again, handcuffed and accused of resisting arrest, he was released without charge.

"It was very devastating," said Bessie Givens, 57, who was awakened by her son's screams. "You watch your son like that, he's so vulnerable. You don't know what's going to happen. I was so scared."

Mario Givens, his mother and several others who watched the scene unfold complained to a police supervisor that officers had refused to take their statements. A senior officer assigned to investigate closed the complaint case within weeks, labeling Slager "exonerated," even though Givens and other witnesses told the AP that no one had ever contacted them.

Their North Charleston neighborhood of Union Heights is overwhelmingly black and working poor, typified by sagging wood-frame houses with peeling paint, barren yards and chain link fences festooned with no trespassing signs. The force that patrols it is about 80 percent white.

Slager responded that night to a 911 call from the ex-girlfriend of Givens' brother Matthew, Maleah Kiara Brown, who said Matthew had come into her bedroom uninvited and then fled. Brown said she went along with police to the Givens home and was outside when Slager knocked on the door.

The incident report filed by Slager and another officer, Maurice Huggins, says the brothers look "just alike," and that Slager had to use the Taser because Mario Givens resisted arrest and attempted to flee.

Brown, Givens and his mother said they told Slager's supervisor that this wasn't how it happened at all.

"He asked the officer why he was at the house. He did it nicely. The police officer said he wanted him to step outside. Then he asked, 'Why, why do you want me to step outside?' Then the officer barged inside and grabbed him."

She said she kept yelling that they had the wrong man, but they wouldn't listen, and that Slager used the stun gun on Givens again even though he was offering no resistance.

"He was screaming, in pain," she said. "He said, 'You tased me. You tased me. Why?' It was awful. Terrible. I asked the officer why he tased him and he told me to get back."

Slager "was cocky," Brown added. "It looked like he wanted to hurt him. There was no need to tase him. No reason. He was no threat — and we told him he had the wrong man."

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