The shooting comes in the wake of a series of similar incidents that have provoked outrage and protests in the United States, including the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Walter Scott, 50, was shot Saturday in the city of North Charleston after a scuffle that began with his being stopped for a broken tail light in his car, local media said.
The chilling video of the shooting in a grassy vacant lot was filmed by a passer-by who mutters expletives as he watches the incident unfold. It was later provided to The New York Times and has been widely viewed.
South Carolina state police arrested officer Michael Slager, 33, and charged him with murder on Tuesday. The charge carries a sentence of up to life in prison or the death penalty.
“The defendant (Slager) did shoot the victim multiple times in the back after an altercation. All this is based upon video evidence and the investigation of the State Law Enforcement Division,” reads a South Carolina court document.
A number of killings of unarmed black men by police officers in recent months have sparked protests across the United States with demonstrators alleging racism in the nation’s police.
Officers have rarely been charged in the shootings, even when the incidents were recorded.
In this case Slager initially says into his radio after the shooting that Scott had taken his stun gun, the Times said, quoting police reports.
However, the video shows wires from the stun gun extending from Scott’s body as the two men scuffle, the Times said.
As Scott, a heavy-set man wearing black pants and a bluish-green shirt, flees, running with difficulty, Slager draws his handgun and shoots eight times toward his back. Scott falls after the last shot.
The officer later approaches Scott, who is on the ground, telling him to put his hands behind his back, and Slager puts him in handcuffs. Slager then appears to get a device that had fallen during the altercation and drop it by Scott’s body.
The video was first released by the Times after being given to the newspaper by the Scott family’s lawyer.
– ‘Bad decision’-
North Charleston mayor Keith Summey described the shooting as a “bad decision,” local newspaper The Post and Courier reported.
“When you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or a citizen on the street, you have to live with that decision,” the mayor said.
The victim’s family spoke out at a news conference after the officer’s arrest, saying they were grateful for the “hero” who recorded the video.
“If there wasn’t a video, would we know the truth? Or would we have just gone with what was reported earlier? But we know the truth now,” said Scott’s brother Anthony in remarks broadcast on the MSNBC network.
Scott was hit by five bullets — three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear, said family lawyer Chris Stewart, quoting the coroner who examined Scott’s body, according to the Times.
The US Justice Department released a statement saying it would “take appropriate action in light of the evidence and developments in the state case.”
– A string of shootings –
The killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August was a catalyst for a recent surge in protests in the country and a renewed debate on racism. A jury chose not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer for the shooting.
Since then, other killings by police have prompted protests in the states of Wisconsin, Georgia, New York and California, among others.
An apparent retaliatory killing of two New York police officers occurred in December.
Police officers have significant legal protections in the United States and the evidence required to bring charges against them is rarely produced.
The US Justice Department has launched investigations into a number of police departments after shootings.
It unearthed what it called damning evidence of racism by some in the Ferguson police department and evidence that officers targeted black residents.
US President Barack Obama has spoken out about problems with policing in parts of the country and he created a task force to try to address the problem following public outcry.
The director of the FBI acknowledged in February that racial bias is a serious problem in US policing