A white South Carolina police officer charged with murder after video surfaced of him shooting a black man in the back was allowed to stay on the force despite a 2013 complaint he used excessive force against another unarmed black man.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Mario Givens recounted Wednesday how he was awakened before dawn one morning in September of that year by loud banging on the front door of his family’s North Charleston home.
On his front porch was Michael Thomas Slager, the same officer now charged in the shooting death of Walter Lamer Scott following a traffic stop over a broken taillight.
The latest case of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man caused an uproar after a video recorded by a bystander showed Slager firing eight times as Scott ran away. There has been a plunge in trust between law enforcement and minorities after high-profile police killings of black men in Missouri and New York City.
Asked about the 2013 incident involving Givens, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said the department now plans to review the case to see if its decision to exonerate Slager was correct.
Of Scott’s death, Givens said “It could have been prevented.”
“If they had just listened to me and investigated what happened that night, this man might be alive today,” he said.
That night in 2013, Givens said he cracked open his door and asked the officer what he wanted. Givens was clad only in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, he recalled.
“He said he wanted to come in, but didn’t say why,” said Givens, now 33.
Then, without warning, Slager pushed in the door, he said.
“‘Come outside or I’ll tase you,'” he recalled the officer saying. “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.”
He said the pain from the stun gun was so intense that he dropped to the floor and began calling for his mother, who was also in the home. At that point, he said another police officer came into the house and they dragged him outside and threw him to the ground. He was handcuffed and put in the back of a squad car.
Though initially accused of resisting the officers, Givens was later released without charge.
It turned out that the officers had gone to the family’s home at the behest of his brother’s ex-girlfriend, who earlier reported awakening in her house to find Matthew Givens in her bedroom, uninvited. She said he left when she began screaming, and she called police.
That woman, Maleah Kiara Brown, told the AP in an interview on Wednesday that she and a friend had followed the officers over to the Givens home and were sitting outside as Slager knocked on the door.
She had provided the officers with a detailed description of Matthew Givens, who is about 5 feet 5 inches (1.5 meters, 12.7 centimeters) tall. Mario Givens stands well over 6 feet (1.8 meters).
“He looked nothing like the description I gave the officers,” Brown said, referring to Mario Givens.
She said she saw the police officers drag Givens out of the house and throw him in the dirt. Brown said she kept yelling to the officers they had the wrong man, but they wouldn’t listen. Though Givens was offering no resistance, she said she saw Slager use the stun gun on him again.
She said she later told a female police supervisor what she had seen.
Mario Givens filed a complaint the next day.
The incident report from that night filed by Slager and the other officer provides a very different version of events. In the report, obtained by the AP through a public records request, Slager wrote that he could not see one of Givens’ hands and feared he might be holding a weapon. He wrote that he observed sweat on Givens’ shirt, which he perceived as evidence he may have just run from Brown’s home, and then ordered him to exit several times.
When Givens didn’t comply, Slager said he entered the home to prevent him from fleeing, and was then forced to use his stun gun when Givens struggled against him. In the officers’ report, the Givens brothers are described as looking “just alike.”
A brief report included in Slager’s personnel file said a senior officer was assigned to investigate. After a couple weeks, the case was closed with a notation that Slager was “exonerated.”
Witness fears for own safety
The man who recorded a police officer shooting a black man says he fears for his own safety since he was identified as the person who videotaped what happened.
Feidin Santana says he was walking to work Saturday morning when he saw Slager and Scott. Santana says he started recording the incident on his cellphone when he heard the sound of a stun gun.
“Mr. Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser,” said Santana, a barber originally from the Dominican Republic.
Santana told NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday that people now know where he lives and works. He says he considered staying anonymous for a time.
Santana said “lives changed in a matter of seconds” when he recorded the shooting on his way to work.
His attorney, Todd Rutherford, appeared on the show with him. Rutherford says Santana is afraid, noting the first thing he asked Thursday morning was, “How can I get protection?”
Rutherford said Santana never saw the officers perform CPR or other life-saving measures.
Officials have said they don’t think there were any other witnesses.
Funeral for Walter Scott to be held Saturday
A funeral will be held Saturday for Walter L. Scott, 50, exactly a week after he was shot and killed after initially being pulled over because his car’s brake light was out.
Scott may have tried to run from the officer because he owed child support, which can send people to jail in South Carolina until they pay it back, his father and a family attorney said. His father said Scott didn’t want to go back to jail.
Court records show that Scott had been jailed three times for failure to pay child support. Scott had four children, was engaged and had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard. There were no violent offenses on his record, the family’s attorney said. Family members have indicated they plan to sue the police department.
Scott had been in a relationship with the mother of a player on the University of Mississippi football team, according to a statement from coach Hugh Freeze. For the student, Fadol Brown, Scott “served as a father figure” for years, the coach said.
High profile defense lawyer represents police officer
A prominent defense attorney is now representing Michael Slager, the white officer charged with murder after he was recorded shooting a black man as he ran away during a traffic stop.
Andy Savage is now representing Slager, according to court records. Slager had been denied bond at a brief hearing Tuesday, where he was not accompanied by a lawyer.
Savage previously represented Eddie Bullard, a 15-year North Charleston police veteran who was fired from the department after authorities said he shot his own protective vest on July 4, 2012, and then reported that someone had attacked him.
The charge was dropped after Bullard pleaded guilty to providing false information to police and was fined $159.
Savage did not immediately respond to phone and email messages on Thursday.
Story by the Associated Press.