CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — One of Michael Slager’s old colleagues from the North Charleston Police Department testified at his murder trial Monday that someone fleeing from a crime scene could be considered a threat. A second officer testified the stress of an officer-involved shooting left him so disoriented he couldn’t immediately recall half of what he did.
The officers were among four from the department to testify about everything from use of force to police procedures Monday. Slager is expected to take the stand in his own defense Tuesday.
He faces 30 years to life if convicted in the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was shot five times in the back in quick succession as he fled a traffic stop in April 2015. The shooting was captured by a bystander on cellphone video that stunned the nation. Slager, 35, was charged with murder and fired from the department once the video was made public.
Jason Dandridge, the firearms training officer for the North Charleston Police Department, testified that officers must qualify in the use of their revolvers at least once a year at a local shooting range. He said officers must hit targets, shooting in rapid succession. He added there is no other mandatory training with firearms for officers.
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Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Dandridge was asked if a suspect who was running away is considered a threat.
A suspect could be a threat “if someone has tried to kill someone and they are fleeing to another area of potential victims,” Dandridge replied. Asked if North Charleston officers are trained to shoot someone in the back he replied, “If it’s needed.”
Scott was unarmed at the time.
Officer Jerry Jellico, who was subpoenaed by the defense, described a 1990 incident on nearby James Island in which he and two other officers were involved in the shooting of a suspect.
In such a situation “you’re stressed out. You’re hyper-focused,” he testified.
“I couldn’t remember half of what I did,” immediately afterward, he told the jury. “The details were all muddled together. You get the times and distances mixed up.”
The prosecution contends that, immediately after the shooting, Slager made up a story about struggling with Scott and Scott getting hold of his Taser before running away.
Another witness called by the defense, North Charleston Police Lt. Walter Humphries, testified that because Scott was running away, a baton would not have worked to get him to stop because officers are taught to use a baton to hit someone’s legs. He said pepper spray needs to be sprayed in someone’s face.
Asked whether Slager should have just given up the chase, Humphries testified, “That’s always an option, but I would prefer that officer isn’t working for me.”
Humphries testified that using the Taser was “the safest and most proficient way to apprehend someone who is fleeing from you.” He was not asked about the propriety of shooting a suspect in the back.
The trial entered its fifth week Monday and could go to the jury by the end of the week.
The defense has asked Circuit Judge Clifton Newman to allow the jury of 11 whites and one black to visit the scene of the shooting. Newman did not immediately rule on the request Monday.