NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — More than a year and a half before a white police officer was captured on video shooting an unarmed black man in the back, the same officer, Michael Slager, was accused of excessive force by another black man.
The complaint was included in Slager’s personnel file, which was released this week by the police department here. It says Slager, who was fired this week by the North Charleston police force and charged with murder, used a stun gun on a man while responding to a reported burglary in 2013.
The incident was among the few details that have so far emerged about Slager, 33, in the days since the five-year police officer was arrested after fatally shooting Walter Scott, who fled after a traffic stop over the weekend.
Exactly what happened between the two men in the moments before the shooting also remains murky. New video from Slager’s dashboard camera released Thursday shows the initial traffic stop that led to Scott’s death, but it does not clarify whether the two men wrestled over Slager’s Taser, as he told a police dispatcher at the time.
On Thursday, the state agency investigating the shooting said its agents found something troubling not long after they arrived on the scene Saturday morning.
“There were inconsistencies including what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds in Mr. Scott’s back. We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in that encounter,” Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, said in a statement.
A cellphone video of the shooting captured by a bystander and released publicly Tuesday “confirmed our initial suspicions,” he said. Still, Keel said evidence gathered so far “raises more questions and issues to investigate.”
State investigators have interviewed Slager and other officers at the scene, the statement said, and are hoping to interview the bystander who recorded the shooting, Feidin Santana.
In the dashboard-camera video, released by state investigators, Slager is seen pulling over Scott’s
Mercedes-Benz and telling him his brake light was out. Asked for his driver’s license and car registration, Scott says he is in the process of buying the car and does not yet have any paperwork. After Slager returns to his patrol car with Scott’s license, Scott leaps from his car and runs away.
Slager is heard on the radio calling in a description of Scott. Seconds later, Slager is heard yelling out “Taser, Taser, Taser!” While the audio is hard to fully discern because of a rock song playing inside Slager’s car and rustling sounds, what sound like gunshots ring out seconds later.
Scott’s family members and some local community leaders have questioned why he was pulled over, noting that Scott was a black man driving a Mercedes and may have been subject to racial profiling. Among those who have attended a handful of protests and community gatherings since the shooting, many have insisted that racial profiling is rampant in North Charleston.
“Do I get harassed? Do I? Do I?” said Virgil Delesline, 28, a North Charleston resident who works at a Chipotle restaurant, laughing at a reporter’s question.
“It’s cause I’ve got a Crown Vic with tinted windows, so they automatically see that as a dope-boy car,” said Delesline, who is black, adding that he gets pulled over almost weekly — and his car is often searched for drugs — even though he has never been charged with a drug-related crime.
Rick Homes, 40, who also is black, said he was pulled over last week for a broken taillight. “Really, it seemed that they just assumed that I had drugs or something,” he said. “They didn’t find anything, as usual.” City and police officials insist there is no broader problem in the North Charleston police department and that the shooting of Scott was the result of Slager’s “bad decision.”
Slager’s mother says she hasn’t been able to bring herself to watch the video of the shooting.
“Michael’s a very generous person, a very kind person,” Karen Sharpe told NBC News in an interview Thursday. “I can’t imagine . . . Michael wasn’t raised like that. He’s a good person.”
Several of Slager’s relatives and friends did not respond to requests for comment.
Authorities have released a handful of personal details about Slager, including that his wife is eight months pregnant. In his first court appearance, Slager told the judge he has “two stepchildren and one on the way.”
Slager’s personnel file offers brief glimpses of his personal history. He applied to be a police officer in 2009, writing in his application that he had been with the U.S. Coast Guard for six years and that his “military time is up.”
Performance appraisals paint a good employee who met expectations. Slager was described as consistently observing safety rules, rarely needing to redo his work and showing “substantial concern” for the safety of his co-workers.
But also included in Slager’s personnel file is a complaint that he used a Taser on a local man two years ago. The man, Mario Givens, alleges that the woman who reported the burglary led Slager to his house but also told Slager that Givens, who opened the door, was not the burglar. According to Givens and another witness, Givens tried to close the door because he was afraid of police officers. After trying to detain Givens, Slager “ended up struggling with him and Tasing him,” the accounts state.
“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 told the Associated Press this week.
Givens filed a complaint the day after the incident, and Slager was exonerated about two weeks later.
Since his arrest Tuesday, Slager has not commented publicly. Shortly before the video of the shooting became public, his first attorney dropped him as a client.
Slager’s new attorney declined to say how he will defend the former officer. In a statement, Andrew J. Savage III, a Charleston defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said that his firm has begun its own investigation.
“I suspect it will take some time,” Savage said. “As we focus in on the facts, we will probably have more to say, but it is far too early for us to be saying what we think.”