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Mistrial declared over police shooting of black motorist in South Carolina


Michael Slager, centre, walks from Charleston County Courthouse (AP)

Michael Slager, centre, walks from Charleston County Courthouse (AP)

Michael Slager, centre, walks from Charleston County Courthouse (AP)

A South Carolina judge has declared a mistrial after a jury was deadlocked in the murder trial of a white former police officer charged over the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist.

A panel of one black and 11 white jurors - who had seemed close to a verdict to convict on Friday, with apparently only one holdout - said on Monday they were unable to reach a unanimous decision after deliberating for more than 22 hours over four days.

"We as a jury regret to inform the court that despite the best efforts of all parties we are unable to come to a unanimous decision," said Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, reading a note from the jury.

Former patrolman Michael Slager was charged with murder over the shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott on April 4 2015. The judge had said the jury could also consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Video taken by a bystander that showed Mr Scott being shot in the back five times was shown widely in the media and on the internet and shocked the country, inflaming the national debate about how blacks are treated by police.

After the video went public, Slager was fired by the police department and charged with murder. Mr Scott's family called for peace in the North Charleston community, which is believed to have helped prevent the kind of violence that erupted elsewhere when black men were killed in encounters with police.

It is the second time in recent weeks a jury has been deadlocked in an officer-involved shooting. A mistrial was declared on November 12 when a jury in Cincinnati could not reach a verdict in the case of a former campus police officer who was also charged with shooting a black motorist.

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The video in the Scott killing renewed debate about how blacks are treated by white officers. There have been similar debates over race and policing in places from New York to Ferguson, Missouri, and from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to North Carolina.

Slager's wife Jamie cried after the jurors were dismissed and briefly put her head on the bench in front of her. She said "thank you for everything" to the defence lawyers as they left the courtroom. She did not respond when reporters asked if she wanted to comment.

One juror wiped away tears with her hands and a tissue as the lawyers addressed them and thanked them for their hours of work.

There were no outbursts in the courtroom, and Slager's lawyer Andy Savage did not comment.

Mr Scott's mother and brother said outside the courthouse that justice will eventually prevail.

"I'm not sad because I know justice will be served," Judy Scott said.

The family called for peaceful protests.

"We're not going to tear up this city," said his brother Anthony. "We're not happy. But we're not sad."

Asked whether he could forgive Slager, Anthony Scott said he could eventually "find the peace" to forgive the ex-officer but not before justice is served.

"He gets to spend Christmas with his family," he said of Slager.

Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson praised Mr Scott's family for their patience and understanding.

"They have not received the credit they deserve in their calm leadership for the community," she said in a statement. "The Scotts have been a sterling example of dignity and grace in extraordinary circumstances."

Slager also faces trial next year in federal court on charges of depriving Mr Scott of his civil rights.

While Slager is white and Mr Scott was black, the video, not the races of the men, dominated the trial.

Mr Scott was pulled over in North Charleston for having a broken tail light on his 1990 Mercedes and then fled the car. Family members have said he may have run because he was worried about going to jail because he was 18,000 dollars behind on child support.

The prosecution argued that 35-year-old Slager let his sense of authority get the better of him.

The defence maintained that the two men wrestled on the ground, that Mr Scott got control of Slager's stun gun and then pointed the weapon at the officer before the shooting. The defence also said there was no way the officer could tell if Mr Scott was unarmed.

Last year, the city of North Charleston reached a 6.5 million dollar civil settlement with Mr Scott's family. The city also asked the US Justice Department to conduct a review of its police department policies and how the department can improve its relationship with residents.


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