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Jury asks for more time in trial of South Carolina officer who shot fleeing driver

Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, second from right, sits in the courtroom on Friday. (Grace Beahm/Post and Courier via AP)
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After more than two days of deliberations, a jury weighing the fate of a former South Carolina officer who was filmed last year shooting a fleeing motorist after a traffic stop said it wanted to take the weekend off and pick back up on Monday morning.

Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman granted the request after an unusual day that saw the jury sent back to deliberate at one point before a juror sent a letter saying they could not consider a guilty verdict, implying that they were deadlocked, before the jury later asked to continue deliberating.

In the letter, read aloud by the judge, a juror said that they were essentially at an impasse because they could not convict the former officer.

“I cannot with good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” the letter said. “I respect the position of my fellow jurors, some of which oppose my position. I expect those who hold opposing views not to change their minds because I see them as good, honest people. Therefore I regret to say we may never reach a unanimous decision.”

However, the person added that while he could not convict Michael Slager, the police officer charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, “my heart does not want to have to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother, and father is innocent.”

‘I was scared’: S.C. officer on trial for murder in shooting of unarmed black man takes the stand

The jury was summoned back to court on Friday afternoon and, ultimately, told the judge it wanted to continue deliberating. Slager’s attorney argued for a mistrial, but the judge let the jurors continue deliberating and told them to send a note if they needed something explained.

Not long after 6 p.m., the jury then told the judge in a note that “they are beat and need some time,” as Newman read from the bench. He agreed to let them take the weekend off and return to deliberations Monday at 9 a.m.

Slager, who is white, was captured on video by a bystander shooting Scott as the black 50-year-old ran away after a traffic stop.

The trial has largely hinged on this graphic video — which was widely seen across social media, news sites and cable news — as well as the account from the officer, who testified during the trial that he feared for his life after a scuffle with Scott following the traffic stop.

“I made the decision to use lethal force,” Slager said when he testified this week. “Mr. Scott never stopped. He was always dangerous.”

Slager had pulled Scott over for a traffic stop in April 2015 and, not long after the two men first spoke, Scott ran away from their cars. The officer gave chase and, a short time later, could be seen taking aim at a fleeing Scott.

It was this footage that was broadly circulated after the shooting, a graphic video that arrived amid an intense scrutiny across the country of how police officers use deadly force.

In the video, Scott can be seen running more than a dozen yards away from the officer, who fires a volley of bullets at the unarmed man’s back. In court this week, Slager said he was in fear after Scott had grabbed and used the officer’s Taser.

“I was scared,” Slager said during the trial, holding back tears. He described feeling “total fear that Mr. Scott was coming toward me.”

South Carolina police officer charged with murder after shooting man during traffic stop

Slager also faces a federal civil rights charge stemming from the shooting and could face up to life in prison if convicted in that case. In the state case, if he is convicted of murder, he could be punished with between 30 years and life in prison; if convicted of manslaughter, he could be sentenced to between two and 30 years.

Officers are seldom charged with murder or manslaughter for deadly on-duty shootings, although this number has increased recently, and convictions are even rarer.

On Nov. 12, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of a former University of Cincinnati police officer who was recorded on video fatally shooting a driver during a traffic stop in July 2015.

Much like the shooting in North Charleston, after graphic video footage emerged, the officer was charged with murder and fired. Prosecutors said last month that they would retry the officer in that case, pushing to put him back in court on the charges of manslaughter and murder.

Scott was one of 991 people fatally shot by police last year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such deaths. This year, police are on pace to fatally shoot about the same number of people. In one key difference amid this era of heightened scrutiny and an uptick in officers being charged, more of these shootings are being captured on video.

Dustin Waters in Charleston, S.C., contributed to this report.

Further reading:

The Washington Post’s police shooting database

Former South Carolina police officer who fatally shot Walter Scott indicted on federal civil rights violation