A white public safety officer in South Carolina who fatally shot a black man after a 2014 car chase has been arrested on a felony charge, the state’s Law Enforcement Division announced Tuesday.
Justin Gregory Craven, a 25-year-old North Augusta public safety officer, was charged with discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle in the February 2014 death of Ernest Satterwhite. If convicted, Craven could go to prison for up to 10 years and face a fine of $1,000.
According to investigators, after Craven attempted to make a traffic stop for a suspected DUI, Satterwhite, 68, led the officer on a car chase from North Augusta to Satterwhite’s home, miles away in Edgefield County. There, investigators say, Craven fired repeatedly through the driver-side door of Satterwhite’s car after Satterwhite had stopped in his driveway.
The charge against Craven was announced on the same day that another white police officer in South Carolina, Michael Slager, was charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott.
Scott, like Satterwhite, was initially approached by police during a traffic stop. Slager was charged based partially on a video showing the North Charleston officer firing several times at Scott’s back as he ran away from Slager.
The 2014 shooting involving Craven also was captured on video, according to the arrest warrant, and he “admitted firing the pistol” into the car occupied by Satterwhite. A spokesman for the Law Enforcement Division declined to discuss the footage of the shooting or any specifics of the investigation, citing the ongoing case.
According to an incident report released by the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office to the Edgefield Daily last year, Craven said after the shooting that Satterwhite — who was unarmed — “grabbed my gun.” A copy of that report was not immediately available to The Post.
A separate incident report released by the North Augusta Department of Public Safety says that “a struggle ensued between officer Craven and the suspect over officer Craven’s duty weapon” before Craven fired multiple times at Satterwhite.
A lawsuit filed by Satterwhite’s family “vehemently denies” that he engaged in a struggle for Craven’s weapon.
The felony charge comes several months after a grand jury indicted Craven on a charge of “misconduct in office,” a misdemeanor, instead of the manslaughter charge initially sought by prosecutors. The misdemeanor case against Craven is still pending, according to the state’s court records.
The family wanted to have seen something more substantial, “like involuntary manslaughter,” Carter Elliott, the Satterwhite family attorney, wrote in an e-mail. “But the current charge is better than misconduct in office — which is what he was previously charged with.”
Craven was booked into the Edgefield County Detention Center on Tuesday, according to the state.
After the February 2014 incident, Craven was “immediately placed on administrative leave,” according to the North Augusta Department of Public Safety. He has not worked as a law enforcement officer for the city since the shooting, the department said. He “briefly” worked in the town’s fire department before being transferred to the North Augusta Department of Building Standards, where he is still employed.
A public safety department official declined to comment specifically on the new charge against Craven, writing that the department does “not want to say or do anything that could possibly interfere with the pending trial.” The department will continue to cooperate with the investigation, the official said.
Elliott said the family’s lawsuit against several government agencies over the fatal shooting was recently settled for more than $1 million, with $1,195,000 coming from the city of North Augusta.
In September, the Associated Press reported that Satterwhite had been arrested and convicted multiple times on traffic charges but that his record did not contain a single violent incident:
Police records show Satterwhite had been arrested more than a dozen times for traffic violations, most of them for driving under suspension or under the influence. Most of the charges led to convictions. He also was charged at least three times for failing to stop as officers tried to pull him over. But his record shows no evidence he ever physically fought with an officer.
University of South Carolina criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert told the AP at the time that Craven probably had time during the lengthy chase to look at Satterwhite’s record and learn that he did not have a history of violent criminal behavior.
Craven’s attorney, Jack Swerling, said that Craven plans to plead not guilty to both charges.
[This post has been updated multiple times, and the headline has been changed]