TIME Crime

South Carolina Officer Charged in Man’s Killing Won’t Face Death Penalty

Michael T. Slager who is accused of shooting Walter Scott.
Charleston County Sheriff's Office Michael T. Slager who is accused of shooting Walter Scott, April 7, 2015.

Officer faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted

The South Carolina police officer charged in the videotaped shooting death of an unarmed black man earlier this month will not face the death penalty, the chief prosecutor in Charleston County said Monday, marking the latest turn in a case that has reignited the national debate on race and police force.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said none of the 22 circumstances that allow South Carolina to seek capital punishment apply in the case involving North Charleston Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager, The Post and Courier reports. Slager, 33, was arrested and charged with murder following the death of Walter Scott on April 4; a bystander’s video of the deadly incident shows Slager firing eight shots in the direction of Scott as he ran away after being stopped about a broken tail light.

MORE: Walter Scott’s Brother Recalls First Viewing of Shocking Video

“Under South Carolina law, this case is not death penalty-eligible,” Wilson said Monday. “There are aggravating circumstances which can take a murder case from being a maximum of life to death being the maximum sentence. None of those factors are present in this case.”

Slager, who remains held at the Charleston County Jail, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

[Post & Courier]

Read next: In the Line of Fire

TIME Crime

South Carolina Police Shooting Renews Calls for Body Cameras

Video appears to show the officer firing eight shots as the man flees

A white police officer in South Carolina was charged with murder Tuesday in the videotaped shooting death of a 50-year-old black man who appeared to be unarmed and fleeing.

The graphic video, said to have been recorded Saturday by a bystander and released Tuesday, appears to show North Charleston officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott eight times in the back following an earlier incident, in which Slager stopped Scott over a broken taillight, The Post and Courier reports. Scott had a warrant out for his arrest and apparently tried to take the officer’s stun gun; the officer said that he feared for his life.

Saturday’s shooting follows several high-profile incidents in Ferguson and New York City last year in which white officers were involved in the deaths of unarmed black men. Those cases, as well as the decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved, spurred nationwide calls for police departments to adopt body cameras that would record confrontations between citizens and police while possibly altering officers’ behavior. While some officials believe body cameras won’t effectively prevent incidents like Scott’s shooting, some police departments have appeared to show success using them, including in Rialto, Calif., which found a reduction in officer complaints and use of force incidents when using cameras.

“If we don’t act and act with expediency, these types of incidents will continue to happen,” State Representative Wendell Gilliard, who has sponsored two bills related to body cameras in the state, told TIME on Tuesday. One would set up a task force to determine the cost of outfitting police with body cameras while another would mandate all officers statewide to wear them. Both have failed to get out of committee and could face a potential veto from Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

Gilliard and State Senator Marlon Kimpson, who has also sponsored a body camera bill, are calling for the legislature to take up the issue again. Rep. Gilliard says he will urge the House’s judicial committee to move the bill to the floor when the legislature reconvenes next week.

Read next: South Carolina Officer Faces Murder Charge After Video Shows Man’s Shooting Death

TIME Crime

South Carolina Officer Faces Murder Charge After Video Shows Man’s Shooting Death

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott called the death of Walter Scott “senseless"

A white police officer in South Carolina was charged with murder Tuesday after a grisly video emerged showing him repeatedly shoot an apparently unarmed black man who was running away, sparking an outraged reaction from local residents, advocates and officials, and a promise that the local police department supply officers with body cameras.

In the April 4 footage captured by a bystander, and posted below, North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager, 33 is seen firing eight shots at a man identified by authorities as Walter Scott, 50. The officer claimed he feared for his life after Scott took his stun gun during a confrontation following a traffic stop over a broken taillight, according to police documents cited by the New York Times.

Slager was booked on the murder charge Tuesday by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, shortly after the video emerged, and he was fired.

“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Mayor Keith Summey said of the decision to charge the officer, in an early evening news conference, The Post and Courier reports. “When you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or a citizen on the street, you have to live with that decision.”

On Wednesday, Summey announced that he had a grant to purchase 101 body cameras for the city’s police force but that he had decided to purchase additional cameras as well.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is investigating the shooting, as will the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the Justice Department.

On Wednesday morning, protesters raising signs and wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts flocked to the North Charleston’s City Hall to slam what they saw as violence in law enforcement, in an echo of similar protests following the police shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in New York City.

The graphic video footage of Scott’s death, originally reported by The Post and Courier and the Times, also prompted a strong reaction from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who called it “senseless” on Twitter and said Scott’s death was “absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.” He added that he will be “watching this case closely.”

MORE: South Carolina Police Shooting Renews Calls for Body Cameras

At the beginning of the video showing the shooting, Scott can be seen running from Slager, who rapidly fires seven shots. Following a slight pause, the officer fires an eighth, after which Scott falls to the ground. The officer is then heard yelling, “Put your hands behind your back!” before handcuffing Scott, who is lying face-down on the ground.

The officer is then shown running several yards away and appears to bend down and lift an object from the ground as another officer arrives on the scene. The second officer then requests that “someone grab [him] a kit” over his radio as he approaches Scott. When the first officer returns to Scott shortly afterward, he appears to drop an object—suspected to be the stun gun—next to Scott’s body.

The second officer can be heard reporting Scott’s injury while kneeling and examining his back as the officer, appearing to be Slager, observes. An additional clip, which the Times labeled as having “captured the scene moments later,” shows two officers applying gauze to Scott’s back while two more officers talk behind them.

Slager was previously accused of excessive force in a 2013 encounter where he also used a stun gun, but he was cleared in that case, NBC reports. He joined the police force five years ago, after serving in the Coast Guard, according to the Times. Information about his lawyer was not immediately available.

Scott may have been fleeing police because he knew he owed child support for his four kids, his lawyer L. Chris Stewart told the Times. Scott had been arrested about 10 times, mostly for failing to pay child support, but he also had an assault charge from 1987, The Post and Courier reports

Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott, told reporters in a televised news conference Tuesday evening that he’s hoping for “justice.”

“From the beginning, when it happened the first day, all we wanted was the truth,” he said. “We can’t get my brother back and my family is in deep mourning of that, but through the process justice has been served.”

Anthony Scott added he doesn’t consider Slager a representation of law enforcement officers. “I don’t think that all police officers are bad cops,” he said. “But there are some bad ones out there and I don’t want to see anyone get shot down the way that my brother got shot down.”

MORE: How Body Cams on Cops Brought a Murder Charge in New Mexico

Stewart, the family’s lawyer, praised the bystander who captured the deadly incident on video and came forward with the footage.

“What happened today doesn’t happen all the time,” Stewart said. “What if there was no video? What if there was no witness—or hero as I call him—to come forward?” he added, as a woman next to him wept. “Then this wouldn’t have happened.”

Justin Bamberg, another family attorney, called it “an example of what can happen when people are willing to step up and do the right thing for the right reasons.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also noted the importance of video evidence in the case, adding that the Obama administration has issued a community policing grant for $75 million to help agencies implement policies related to body cameras.

“I do think that it is an example of how body cameras worn by police officers could have a positive impact in terms of building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Earnest said.

“I don’t think that anyone thinks that this this is a panacea—it certainly isn’t—but it certainly, at least in this situation, is an indication of how it can help.”

With reporting by Maya Rhodan and Justin Worland

TIME Education

University of South Carolina Frat Suspended After Student Death

Authorities say the death is suspicious

The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of South Carolina has been suspended after one of its members was found dead Wednesday morning.

Authorities say the death is suspicious, USA Today reports. There was no indication of foul play, but an autopsy to determine the student’s cause of death was scheduled for Thursday morning.

The national office of Pi Kappa Alpha has put the chapter on administrative suspension during the investigation.

“The fraternity’s thoughts and prayers are with the family of this young man and the brothers of Xi Chapter,” the national office said in a statement.

The university also issued a statement, saying, “There are a lot of rumors out there about the circumstances surrounding the death but at this point the matter remains under investigation. While we await further information we are focused on helping our community grieve and heal.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Dark Horse Who Could Upset the First Southern Primary

Presidential Hopefuls Address International Association Of Fire Fighters Forum
Alex Wong—Getty Images Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during the 2015 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, DC. on March 10, 2015.

Dr. Edward Floyd, a prestigious South Carolina vascular surgeon, goes way back with the most powerful family in Republican politics.

Both Bush Presidents and former First Lady Laura Bush have stopped by his South Carolina home during various campaigns over the past two decades. Former President George W. Bush appointed him as a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly. And as a member of the South Carolina University board of trustees, Floyd lobbied to get former Florida governor Jeb Bush an honorary degree at the school in December.

But Floyd says he just can’t endorse Jeb Bush in his coming presidential run. That’s because Floyd is committed to his home-state’s favorite son, Senator Lindsey Graham, whose White House ambitions, while seemingly quixotic, may upend the race in the nation’s third primary state. “It’s a little personal with me,” Floyd told TIME, explaining his reasons. More than a decade ago, Graham helped arrange what few other politicians could: visas to Russia for his daughter and son-in-law, who wanted to adopt a child from a St. Petersburg orphanage.

Such stories are not hard to find in South Carolina these days, where Graham’s deep ties to the state party still hold enormous sway. As Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker visit the “first in the South” primary state this week, they will encounter many faces like Floyd’s: friendly, but not up for grabs. “Senator Graham has frozen people who otherwise might be inclined to support Bush,” said one top South Carolina GOP operative. “They’re not making direct asks for money … they’re here saying, ‘Hey, we want to be your second choice after Senator Graham.’”

“They’re friend-raising and not fundraising,” the operative added.

Graham, a foreign policy hawk, is unlikely to clear the Palmetto State’s field like Senator Tom Harkin’s Iowa campaign for President did in 1992. But fresh off a 2014 re-election that he won by a 15.5 percentage-point margin, Graham has become one of 2016’s biggest wild cards — a dark-horse candidate whose decisions will determine not just his own fate, but also potentially the outcome of the GOP race.

In Iowa earlier this month, Graham stole the spotlight with witty rejoinders on the need for immigration and entitlement reforms and zingers sending up the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. From there he flew to New Hampshire, where Graham hopes to rekindle the “straight talk” that turned the Granite State into his friend John McCain’s political Avalon. He’s buoyed by the likes of billionaire GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson for his opposition to online gaming and strong support for Israel and drew a half-dozen GOP Senators to a fundraiser for his PAC tied to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress.

Though few nationally or in his home state believe Graham will truly stick it out, he’s poised to play kingmaker or spoiler, and maybe assassin.

Graham’s candidacy could have the biggest impact on Senator Rand Paul’s presidential run — a vehicle for the South Carolinian to attempt to torpedo the more isolationist lawmaker’s ambitions. He’s also sparred with Senator Ted Cruz, another hopeful with whom he rarely sees eye to eye and whose tactics he’s condemned. Critics call him a stalking horse for the establishment, picking a fight with the party’s extreme to provide a favored candidate — like Bush — with political cover.

Graham’s strong advocacy of comprehensive immigration reform makes Bush a likely beneficiary of his support, but many candidates are seeking to remain on Graham’s good side. (Rand and Cruz are some of the few 2016-ers to have even announced hires in South Carolina, bringing on veteran strategist Chris LaCivita and former GOP Spartanburg county chairwoman LaDonna Ryggs, respectively, to advise campaigns in Graham’s home state.)

In New Hampshire last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry called Graham “my buddy.” “I am a big Lindsey Graham fan,” he was caught saying on an open microphone, adding he seeks out Graham’s counsel on foreign policy. “I think he is one of the most knowledgeable people that we have on foreign policy, and we need to listen to him. He is a very, very bright U.S. Senator. He’s carved out his niche, and it is foreign policy.”

Graham’s cache of supporters are loyal, but they’re hardly a majority in his home state. The South Carolina Republican Party put him on its online presidential straw poll — featuring uninterested politicians such as Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Tim Scott — only last week. And 60.2% of South Carolinians and more than 55% of Republican-leaning voters don’t think he should run for President.

“I wouldn’t say there is a predisposition to automatically supporting Lindsey Graham for President,” said Charleston-based GOP consultant Jim Dyke. “I think that every election is different and people judge you by the job that you’re running for.”

If the 34% of GOP leaners supportive of Graham running break his way, it’s a surefire victory in a jam-packed field. But even a 5% draw — an easy feat — could be determinative.

“It’s hard enough to see Jeb Bush winning South Carolina, and with Graham in the race it’s just about impossible,” said another veteran national strategist. “And he pulls the business and military votes that Walker might need to hold off a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.”

The social conservative state’s electorate is notoriously fickle. In 2000, then Texas governor George W. Bush won the state after a nasty primary fight with McCain. But in 2008, McCain eked out a victory over Iowa victor former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee with Graham’s assistance. In 2012 they rallied just days before the primary to Newt Gingrich’s defense on the heels of salacious reporting about the collapse of his second marriage, which he turned into a high-profile critique of the “gotcha” press.

The divided loyalties between Jeb Bush and Graham even extend to the ranks of Graham’s own campaign. His exploratory committee, Security Through Strength, is run by David Wilkins, a U.S. ambassador to Canada under President George W. Bush. Wilkins, who chaired Bush 43’s 2000 and 2004 South Carolina campaigns, says he would support Jeb if it weren’t for Graham, a friend for over 23 years, dating back to when they served in the South Carolina House of Representatives in the early 1990s.

“I don’t know of anyone that’s better versed in foreign policy and really knows more about it than Lindsey Graham,” adds Wilkins. “He knows the world leaders, he’s traveled the world, he’s been to the hot spots. He’s just immersed himself in that issue. I don’t know anyone more knowledgeable than him.”

It’s those kinds of personal testimonials that could shake up the South Carolina primary, and by extension the rest of the Republican primary calendar in 2016.

 

TIME 2016 Election

South Carolina Presidential Straw Poll Leaves Out Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham
Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference in Washington D.C., March 26, 2014 .

Sen. Lindsey Graham is the Rodney Dangerfield of the 2016 Republican presidential primary: He can’t get no respect.

Almost two months after the South Carolina Republican announced that he was “definitely” looking at a presidential run, an online straw poll from his home state’s party still did not include him.

To make the oversight hurt just a little more, the straw poll had 25 names on it, including such unlikely candidates as former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It even listed the state’s junior senator, Tim Scott. When asked if Scott was interested in running for president, spokesman Sean Smith said: “Easy answer: nope.”

Graham fans could still fill out a box for a write-in candidate, however.

South Carolina GOP party chairman Matt Moore was notified of Graham’s absence when TIME emailed him about it Wednesday. He said that the poll was created before Graham became more publicly vocal about a run, although he had floated the possibility last fall.

“That straw poll was done late last year before the New Year,” said Moore. “So it’s no reflection upon him. It was just a poll we put together last year and I expect we’ll be adding Sen. Graham pretty soon. In other words, take a look today again.”

“You raised a good point,” he added. ”He’s been in recent polls so people can end up choosing him.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the poll had been updated to include Graham’s name.

But there may be little appetite for a Graham run in his own home state. A week ago, a Winthrop Poll found that 60 percent of South Carolinians and two thirds of the state’s registered voters think he should not run for president in 2016.

TIME South Carolina

Federal Lawsuit Claims South Carolina Foster Care System Harms Children

The suit says the state's Department of Social Services is "re-victimizing the very children it is charged to protect"

Child welfare activists filed a lawsuit in Federal court Monday against South Carolina’s foster care system.

The lawsuit cites three “deficiencies” in the state’s foster system, according to the New York Times: overwhelming caseloads for employees, poor health services for the children and a lack of foster homes. “D.S.S. is re-victimizing the very children it is charged to protect,” the lawsuit says, meaning the Department of Social Services.

“There’s got to be accountability when longstanding systemic problems, like a severe lack of mental health services, gross over-reliance on institutions and high caseloads that continue to harm innocent children,” Ira Lustbader, the litigation director for Children’s Rights, told the Times.

Eleven children in foster care are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in Charleston.

TIME Accident

Body of Missing 4-Year-Old Autistic Boy Found in Pond

Christmas Day Search for Jayden Morrison Missing Child
Charles Slate—The Sun News/AP The family of missing Jayden Morrison, from left, his grandmother, Carolyn Sumpter, father, Andre Morrison and mother Tabatha Morrison look on during search efforts in Little River, S.C., on Dec. 25, 2014.

The body of Jayden Morrison was found in a pond

The body of a 4-year-old autistic boy who went missing while visiting his grandparents in South Carolina was found in a pond Friday, the local coroner’s office said. Jayden Morrison, who is non-communicative, was last seen Wednesday at his grandmother’s house in Little River near Myrtle Beach.

Hundreds of volunteers, police and rescue crews began a third day of searching for the young boy in remote areas and bodies of water before his body was found, according to the Horry County Police Department. Jayden’s mother, who is from Westchester, New York, left him in the care of his grandmother on…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

South Carolina Grand Jury Indicts White Cop in Fatal Shooting of Black Man

Richard Combs
Larry Hardy—The Times and Democrat/AP Richard Combs the former police chief and sole officer in the small town of Eutawville listens in court on Dec. 4, 2014, in Orangeburg, S.C.

Richard Combs was formally charged over the 2011 shooting of Bernard Bailey

—TheA white former police chief in South Carolina was formally charged in the 2011 shooting death of a black man in a town hall parking lot Wednesday, the same day a New York grand jury declined to indict a white NYPD officer in the death of a black Staten Island man, sparking widespread protests.

A South Carolina grand jury indicted Richard Combs, an ex-police chief who fatally shot 54-year-old Bernard Bailey during a confrontation near town hall. Combs was the only officer in Eutawville, S.C., a population of about 300 people.

(MORE: Behind the Video of Eric Garner’s Deadly Confrontation With Police)

According to the Associated Press, Combs attempted to arrest Bailey in May 2011 after he went to the Eutawville town hall about a broken-taillight ticket given to his daughter. The two got into a fight and Combs shot Bailey while he was in his truck. In 2013, Combs was indicted for misconduct in office, a lesser charge.

The indictment comes after recent decisions by grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City in which white officers were involved in deadly confrontations with two unarmed black men, Ferguson’s Michael Brown and Staten Island’s Eric Garner.

Both grand juries decided there was insufficient evidence to convict the officers involved. Combs’ lawyer questioned the timing of the murder charge and claimed that prosecutors were merely trying to piggyback off national outrage over the deaths of Brown and Garner.

TIME 2014 Election

South Carolina Congressional Candidate Calls Gay Couples ‘Gremlins’

“They’re these creatures that are so destructive," Anthony Culler said

A South Carolina Congressional candidate called same-sex couples “gremlins” out to “destroy our way of life” in a seven-minute Facebook video released Monday.

The video followed a lengthy statement the candidate posted to Facebook on Oct. 14 urging South Carolina voters to stand with him if they were for traditional marriage. “I made a comment that same-sex couples that want to destroy traditional marriage and our way of life, they’re gremlins,” said Republican Anthony Culler, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. James Clyburn. “They’re these creatures that are so destructive.”

Culler went on say that while the 6th District where he’s challenging Clyburn is often referred to as “the black district” he believes it’s also a “Christian district” where many people share views like his.

“The people here—black, white, Democrat, Republican—we believe in family,” Culler said. “We believe in traditional family. We believe in the way that is has always been: one man, one woman. Government can make up any laws it wants to, it doesn’t make it right. Evil is evil. Wrong is wrong. “

The Republican has almost no chance of beating the 11-term congressman in the strongly Democratic district. The state Republican Party denounced Culler’s statements, saying “most people learned in kindergarten not to call other people names.”

“Our party believes in the conservative definition of marriage, but we also believe in loving our neighbors and treating them with respect,” South Carolina GOP chairman Matt Moore said. “Mr. Culler’s desperate, attention-seeking antics in no way represent the good, decent South Carolinians I’ve met across our state.”

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