The Michael Slager Trial: When The Ethical Course Is To Not Exercise a Right

shooting_of_walter_scott

Michael Slager is the white North Charleston police officer who stopped African American Walter Scott for a taillight violation on April 4, 2015, and in the ensuing events, ended up fatally shooting Scott as he fled the scene, in the back, as recorded on a cell phone video. Of all the many police-involved shootings, this is the least equivocal. Slager is guilty of murder of one kind or another: in South Carolina, there is only one kind, and  mitigating circumstances are reflected in the sentence. He could receive life in prison, or much less time.

But every criminal defendant has the right to be tried by a jury of his peers before the law finds him guilty, and Slager is taking full advantage of the right. In doing so, he is forgoing his last clear chance at redemption. The former officer—he has already been fired for the episode and not just put on paid leave, as is usually the case—is understandably trying to avoid a conviction and jail time, even though, should he be acquitted by some miracle or act of mass hypnosis, it would be certain to provoke even more anger and distrust in the black community, and, I would hope, among non-African Americans as well. A justice system that finds, no matter how it reaches such a conclusion, that an officer who shoots a fleeing man dead like Slager did is not guilty needs to be blown up and seeded with salt. When Slager’s first lawyer saw the video, he quit.

Do you think an acquittal is impossible? Don’t. All that is needed is a jury full of people who “think,” and I use the word generously, like the signers of this petition. I’m pretty sure that there are more than twelve of them available. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Unethical Website Of The Month: Michael T. Slager Support Fund”

Now, let's not jump to conclusions...

Now, let’s not jump to conclusions…

UPDATE (MAY 3): I have been convinced that the original post that generated this Comment of the Day went too far. Asking for support for Slager’s defense cannot be unethical: Slager has a right to a defense, and the best one available. My thoughts on that issue, in relation to the Freddie Gray cops, are here. I still think it is obvious that the individual who posted the appeal is doing so for unethical reasons, and is likely a racist, an apologist for a bad cop, and an idiot. But the appeal itself is not unethical, hence the website was not unethical to post it.

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How can a website dedicated to paying for the defense of fired police officer Michael T. Slager be unethical, when every citizen is guaranteed the right to a defense before a jury of his peers? I thought I made my ethical objections to the site clear when I wrote:

Slager deserves a fair trial and will get one, but anyone whose immediate reaction to seeing the horrific video is sympathy for this killer cop needs psychiatric treatment, and quickly.

I also made it clear—I thought–that the text of the appeal betrayed a strange and ugly urge to shield Slager from the consequences of his conduct, which was per se, on its face, undeniably illegal under the laws of every state in the land, including South Carolina. He shot a fleeing man in the back; he cannot claim self-defense. Deadly force is forbidden in such situations. Unless Slager noticed that victim Walter Scott had death-ray shooting eyes in the back of his head, Scott’s death is a homicide, and it’s an open and shut case. The only remaining question is what level of homicide.

The appeal said that the poster supported Slager. Wrong. We should not support police officers who shoot citizens in the back. It attempted to minimize Slager’s offense by calling it a “mis-step.” Intentionally shooting someone illegally is not a mis-step. It’s murder. Then the appeal reminded us that Slager has a family, and didn’t do anything bad before he shot a man to death. Well, “first offense” is not a big mitigating factor when it comes to executing people.

However, I appreciate Ethics Alarms newcomer Gustav Bjornstrand‘s comment, though I don’t think this is the best context for it. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post “Unethical Website Of The Month: Michael T. Slager Support Fund.” I’ll be back at the end.

I venture to say that to offer support to Slager is certainly ethical, in and of itself. That is, if one believed that he or anyone deserves monetary support in order to raise a defence. It is conceivable that even someone who was certain he had committed a crime would choose still to aid him in getting good representation. It is unethical, I suggest, for anyone to assume that Slager is guilty of murder before a court decides the issue. It is possible, even if improbable, that there were circumstances prior to Slager firing that may shed light on his decision to fire. Additionally, there are a few other factors that need to be taken into consideration: Continue reading

Proof Of Evolving Ethics Enlightenment: Bert The Cop Would Have Shot Walter Scott In The Back Too

For those who think that our ethical sensitivities don’t evolve for the better over time, I prescribe a careful viewing of that family classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

At the film’s climax, George Bailey, the self-sacrificing hero who has been granted his inadvertent wish to see what the world would be like if he had never been born, finds the love of his life and (in the life he has given up for this dystopian hell) the mother of his children now unmarried, alone and working as a librarian despite the fact that she looks like Donna Reed. He embraces her, and since she’s never met him in this alternate reality, she screams, believing she is being sexually assaulted by a madman. Kind, jovial police officer Bert is summoned to quell the ruckus, and George, who is a bit upset, punches him in the face to avoid arrest, and runs away. Bert then takes out his pistol and fires it at George repeatedly.

He’s a lousy shot.

In 1946, when audiences first saw this film, nobody thought there was anything unusual about Bert’s professional conduct. Many, many films right through the 1960s show police officers, “good guys,” even ones not trapped in a strangely mean alternate reality like Ward Bond’s Bert, shooting at fleeing suspects or criminals. That was considered appropriate police procedure then, and the public, society and U.S. culture saw nothing amiss. You were expected, as a good citizen, to submit to a police officer’s lawful authority. If you resisted arrest and ran, then it was fair and reasonable for the officer to shoot you, ideally after a “Stop or I’ll shoot!” warning. Indeed, many people were shot, and killed, this way. If it was news, it wasn’t on the front page, and it wasn’t considered any kind of an outrage.

Now consider the public and media reaction to Michael T. Slager’s shooting of Walter Scott. We now know that Scott was resisting arrest: he had a bench warrant out on him for non-payment of over $18,000 in child support, and Slager was trying to bring him into custody. Instead of doing as the officer demanded, Scott resisted and ran. Burt would have shot at his back too; the difference is that Slager is a better shot, and George was faster. Slager, however, is completely reviled across the country; even his own lawyer found him so repugnant that he refused to represent him.

That represents a massive shift in cultural values in a little over half a century. Continue reading

Slager’s Lawyer Unethically Throws Him Under The Bus (Not That He Doesn’t Belong There)

Professional Tip: Lawyers, it's unethical to do this to your clients!

Professional Tip: Lawyers, it’s unethical to do this to your clients!

When a lawyer believes that representing a client is something that he or she cannot do effectively, either because of a deep personal bias against the client, another conflict of interest, a reasonable belief that the client is untrustworthy or unmanageable, or some other good reason, his duty is to withdraw from the representation. Believing or even knowing that the client is guilty is not a good reason. Guilty clients have rights, the system demands a competent defense, and sometimes—rarely, but it happens—a lawyer can be surprised to find out that his “guilty” client isn’t guilty after all.

Withdrawal from a representation is appropriate and allowed in the circumstances defined by ABA Rule 1.16: Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Michael T. Slager Support Fund

Or maybe the century.

I guess it might be a parody.

I hope it’s a parody.

UPDATE (MAY 3): I have been convinced that this post went too far. Asking for support for Slager’s defense cannot be unethical: Slager has a right to a defense, and the best one available. My thoughts on that issue, in relation to the Freddie Gray cops, are here. I still think it is obvious that the individual who posted the appeal is doing so for unethical reasons, and is likely a racist, an apologist for a bad cop, and an idiot. But the appeal itself is not unethical, hence the website was not unethical to post it.

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On Indiegogo, a competitor of GoFundMe, some deranged individuals have actually—can I be really writing this?put up a website seeking funds to defend Michael T. Slager, who is, on the video above, shooting Walter Scott in the back as he fled, apparently executing him with multiple shots, handcuffing his motionless body, and then planting a stun gun beside him. Slager deserves a fair trial and will get one, but anyone whose immediate reaction to seeing the horrific video is sympathy for this killer cop needs psychiatric treatment, and quickly.

The text of the appeal is similarly jaw-dropping:

We’re campaigning to show our Support for Officer Michael T. Slager!

Why in the world would anyone want to support a man who has committed a murder and fanned the flames of distrust and racial discord in the process?

We believe in all of our LEOs and want to publicly support them!

Do you believe in video technology? Do you even support murderous law enforcement officers?Apparently so.

Although he may have made mis-steps in judgement he was protecting the community.

Calling shooting an unarmed fleeing man a misstep in judgement is like calling Jeffrey Daumer a bad chef. A white officer hooting a defenseless and fleeing black man endangers the community, by straining the bonds of trust that hold it together.

Michael is a former Coast Guardsman with two stepchildren and a wife who is expecting a child, served for more than five years with the department without being disciplined.

So what? Does this any of this earn him special immunity from the requirements of decency, justice, and respect for human life?

Please help in any way you can.

Why? Why should anyone want anything other than for this disgrace of a cop to be tried, convicted, and locked up for the rest of his life?

He has served five years with the department without being disciplined.

Oh. Well, that changes everything! He should be able to shoot anyone he decides to shoot, then.

Eight people have contributed to this nauseating appeal.