CHARLESTON, S.C., Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Several police officers testified on the third day of testimony in the trial of former officer Michael Slager, saying they think he was in a physical struggle with Water Scott before shooting and killing him.
Slager is facing a murder charge in the death of Walter Scott, who was shot while fleeing from Slager after a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C., on April 4, 2015. Slager had said he first attempted to subdue Scott with a Taser before any bullets were fired. Cellphone video footage taken by a passerby shows Scott being shot five times in the back as he ran away.
Prosecutors contended that the video contradicted information Slager gave fellow officers after the shooting, but Officer Clarence Habersham and Lt. Dan Bowman, defense witnesses who testified on Monday, said that, judging by Slager's disheveled appearance, they believed he had been in an altercation before any shooting occurred. They said they believed Slager could have been justified in taking the actions he did.
Habersham testified that he sped to the scene of the shooting after Slager called for him by police radio. It was apparent, Habersham testified, that Slager "was in a physical altercation" at the time of the call.
Habersham, who had been the first officer to arrive on the scene, added that he never saw Slager drop a Taser near Scott's body, an action prosecutors said was an attempt to stage a scene, and said his first action after arriving was to aid Scott. Slager initially said Scott stole the Taser.
Lt. Dan Bowman testified that Slager appeared "disheveled" and dirty and said there was "no question" he'd struggled with Scott on the ground.
A prosecution witness, Lt. James Gann, who was supervising Slager's squad on the day of the shooting, said he initially thought Slager and Scott were no more than four feet away from each other when the shots were fired. Scott, in the video, was seen running away as he was shot.
The prosecutor asked Gann about Slager's police training.
"Was he trained by the North Charleston Police Department to shoot someone in the back while he's running away?" Chief Deputy Solicitor Bruce DuRant asked.
"No, sir," Gann replied.
The prosecutor then asked Gann whether he thought running away was "de-escalating" a situation.
Gann sighed twice, according to reports, asked for the question to be repeated, and then replied.
"Through the video," he said. "I would say [Scott] was de-escalating."
Slager told his account of the shooting to at least four police officers, including Gann and Bowman. More officers are expected to testify in the coming days.