Does SC Mistrial Signal Limits on Police Accountability?

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The mistrial of a former police officer who was videotaped fatally shooting an unarmed black man five times in the back raises new questions about how the high standing officers enjoy in the criminal justice system could affect meaningful police accountability, says the Christian Science Monitor. Prosecutors will seek a new trial in the death of Walter Scott, the North Charleston, S.C., motorist killed by former officer Michael Slager after a routine traffic stop. The fact that the jury deadlocked in what many observers saw as a relatively open-and-shut case underscores the difficulty of convicting police officers. “It’s notoriously very difficult to get criminal convictions in these cases,” says Kami Chavis Simmons of Wake Forest University School of Law. “There are some [cases] that are just much more ambiguous than others, and to a lot of people this looked like a clear-cut case.”

The jurors’ inability to reach a verdict after 22 hours of deliberation over four days was a surprise given the course the case had taken to this point. Slager’s lawyers argued that the officer shot Scott out of fear for his own life. Testifying in his own defense, Slager said he felt “total fear” and fired his weapon “until the threat was stopped, like I’m trained to do.” Defense attorney Andrew Savage also warned of the implications of convicting of a police officer. “Their greatest protection is the support of the community,” he told the jury.  Americans’ confidence in the police has edged back up after a 22-year low in 2015. Chavis Simmons, a former assistant United States attorney, says cases like this are important to law enforcement accountability in the long-term.

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