The National Bar Association, a mostly African-American legal group, said Friday that Clarence Habersham had participated in “an attempted cover-up” of Walter L. Scott’s death and should be charged.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — As questions were being raised about police conduct in the April 4 shooting death of Walter L. Scott, critics were calling for the prosecution of a black police officer for his actions in the episode.
After the shooting, an amateur video was made public showing a police officer, Michael T. Slager, firing eight rounds at Scott as he attempted to run away. Slager, who is white, has been charged with murder.
A second officer, Clarence Habersham, did not fire any rounds at Scott and arrived on the scene in North Charleston shortly after the confrontation between Scott and Slager. (Scott, who had been pulled over for a broken taillight, is believed to have run from his vehicle because he feared arrest over outstanding child-support obligations.)
In a two-sentence report filed after the shooting, Habersham wrote that he had “attempted to render aid to the victim by applying pressure to the gunshot wounds” and by helping to coordinate the emergency response.
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But the officer’s critics questioned his account and said video evidence indicates that Habersham did little to aid Scott. They also question whether Habersham omitted significant information from his report — for instance, that Slager dropped an item, possibly his Taser stun gun — near Scott after the shooting.
The National Bar Association, a mostly African-American legal group, said Friday that Habersham had participated in “an attempted cover-up” of Scott’s death and should be charged.
“In his report, Habersham does not describe Slager’s actions, but said that he gave aid to Scott and tried to give directions to the scene,” the group said in a statement Friday. “However, there is no evidence on the video that shows Officer Habersham, or anyone else, administered CPR to Mr. Scott.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton on Sunday joined those urging the South Carolina authorities to prosecute Habersham.
“Given what I’ve seen, he certainly should be held accountable,” Sharpton said Saturday night. “What charge, I don’t know. But certainly he should not walk away without facing some accountability in the criminal-justice system.”
Sharpton, who was scheduled to speak at a Baptist church in North Charleston on Sunday before attending an afternoon vigil at the scene of the shooting, is not the first person to suggest that Habersham be charged. But his comments could intensify debate about whether officers other than Slager should be prosecuted in connection with Scott’s death.
Habersham could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Slager was fired because of the shooting, and he has been held without bond at the Charleston County jail since his arrest Tuesday. He could be indicted as early as next month. Officials in North Charleston have not ruled out that other officers could be disciplined. The municipal authorities are not leading the criminal inquiry into the shooting; instead, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the episode.
Sharpton is also expected to call for South Carolina lawmakers to adopt legislation that would compel police officers in the state to wear body cameras. He will also likely argue that White House hopefuls campaigning in South Carolina, which holds one of the earliest presidential primaries, should be pressed to discuss police accountability in the wake of the shooting in North Charleston.