Thursday, April 9, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court largely is responsible for the environment that led cop to fatally shoot Walter Scott

South Carolina Officer Michael Slager shoots a fleeing
 Walter Scott in the back.
Video of a South Carolina police officer fatally shooting a fleeing and apparently unarmed black man has gone viral. The death of Walter Scott, at the hands of Officer Michael Slager, probably is the No. 1 news story in the country right now--and it's the latest in a long line of stories over the past eight months involving police misconduct.

The public understandably is focused on the brutality that is apparent in the video, plus the fact that Slager has been fired and charged with murder. (See full video at the end of this post.) But the key to the story might lie in the moments before a bystander started shooting video of Scott and Slager struggling in an open, grassy area.

That's because Scott and Slager first encountered each other via a traffic stop. And a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court case on traffic stops might explain why Slager acted with such impunity toward Scott. It also might explain why Slager lied about his actions, claiming he shot Scott because he felt threatened--and apparently planting his taser to make it appear that Scott had taken it from him.

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case in question is styled Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), in which the high court gave its OK for pretextual traffic stops. No one should be surprised that right-wing ideologue Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion in Whren.

What is a traffic stop based on pretext? Here is how one legal Web site describes it:

A "pretext" or "pretextual" stop is a stop in which the officer detains the citizen for a minor crime (i.e. traffic offense) because the officer actually suspects the person of involvement in another, more significant crime (i.e. drug possession).

In other words, a pretext stop involves deception. A law enforcement officer tells a citizen he is being stopped for one thing, when he's really being stopped for something else. And the nation's highest court, in Whren, has said this is perfectly fine.

According to news reports, Slager stopped Scott because he had a broken brake light on his vehicle. Reports also indicate Scott was wanted on a family-court warrant because he was behind on child-support payments.

Did Scott really have a broken brake light? It's possible that he did not, and Slager actually stopped him because he had looked up information about the child-support case. It's also possible Slager stopped Scott simply because he was "driving while black." Whren is almost 20 years old, but petitioners in the case foresaw the kind of tragedy that could happen to someone like Walter Scott. From the Whren opinion:

(Petitioners) argue . . . that "in the unique context of civil traffic regulations" probable cause is not enough. Since, they contend, the use of automobiles is so heavily and minutely regulated that total compliance with traffic and safety rules is nearly impossible, a police officer will almost invariably be able to catch any given motorist in a technical violation. This creates the temptation to use traffic stops as a means of investigating other law violations, as to which no probable cause or even articulable suspicion exists. Petitioners, who are both black, further contend that police officers might decide which motorists to stop based on decidedly impermissible factors, such as the race of the car's occupants. To avoid this danger, they say, the Fourth Amendment test for traffic stops should be, not the normal one (applied by the Court of Appeals) of whether probable cause existed to justify the stop; but rather, whether a police officer, acting reasonably, would have made the stop for the reason given.

The petitioners, in other words, wanted SCOTUS to force officers to be honest in their reasons for conducting traffic stops. But the high court rejected that argument, and in our view, that led to the kind of brutality and dishonesty Officer Slager exhibited during and after the killing of Walter Scott.

Whren is a case where one party before SCOTUS had more foresight and intelligence than the justices themselves. If Scalia and his colleagues had paid attention to a valid argument, Walter Scott might be alive today--and Officer Slager might not stand accused of murder.

Walter Scott shooting from The Post and Courier on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis, LS. Haven't read this anywhere else. Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Certainly not a surprise that Scalia authored the brilliant opinion in Whren.

Bart said...

The young man who filmed this has some guts. He got very close to the action, and I don't know how the cops didn't see him filming.

Anonymous said...

Without the tape, the cop gets away with murder.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't the Supreme Courts fault. The actions that lead to this man's death belonged to Michael Slager. If you can blame the Supreme Court for this, you could just as easily blame Walter Scott. It is obvious that Scott got out of his vehicle for some reason (probably an outstanding warrant) and ran from the officer. The officer caught him and a struggle occurred. Scott caused a taser to be removed from it's holster. A man lost his life and another lost his freedom. Had Scott just sat in the car, like an ordinary person, then he wouldn't have been murdered. I doubt the officer would have walked up to the car and shot him. This isn't a Supreme Court problem.

legalschnauzer said...

You missed my point, @4:23. I said the Supreme Court's decision in Whren set up an environment where police officers can lie about the real reason they are pulling someone over and get away with it. It sets up a system of deceit, and what did Officer Slager immediately do when confronted with explaining what happened to Mr. Scott? He lied.

Police officers have known for roughly 20 years they can get away with deceitful actions toward the public because of the ruling in Whren.

SCOTUS set the stage for this kind of stuff 20 years ago. God only knows how many incidents like it have occurred, but were ever caught on video.

Dixie said...

I think Mr. Scott was stopped because he was a black man driving a Mercedes. In the mind of a white cop, that equals "drug dealer."

legalschnauzer said...

Dashcam footage of the Walter Scott traffic stop has been released and shows no struggle took place at the car:

legalschnauzer said...

We ask in our post if Walter Scott really had a broken brake light. A photo out today indicates the answer is no.

Anonymous said...

The picture does not prove the brake light was functional. I would like the brakes to be pressed and see if all the lights will illuminate, before we assume the officer lied.
I question why the video is cut down. It's a little odd to me that it starts with the officer at the window already.

Anonymous said...

driving while black

defendant mobile

and the words used for a long time now, were and are to make the population in the usa into the creative chaos global we can now see working

to do what gets done

what gets done is less and less rights for the individual and SCOTUS retires high on the hogs

butterfly effect

the international order got destroyed and that has been a carefully controlled population agenda by the so called higher court usa

wars to never end

crashing of the financial system

domino pushed and blacks are the target? no all are the target

blacks are of course always in the shoot to kill category since this model has been going for as long as george and martha washington owned the first white house for real

slaves were disposable commodities when not useful

digital slaves are easy to recycle in the commodity trades

what about the indians

interesting times

great job mr journalist

pay attention to the continuous melt down because the stopping of our world's shifting the global game of power brokers is going to be far more dangerous than the viral videos of the zombies that have been intentionally made to do what the cops do

schnauzer you know exactly how insane the criminals really are

get ready for some very powerful shifts in the power structures

prep some

water and other forms of readiness for a disaster a serious disaster as we can know by the video viral that is to cause the powers to freak out

when the murderers can't murder then we have a very dangerous situation because murdering is a blood lust that usa can't seem to not do

scalia et al are all invested in the murder industry, clearly

Mark Hayden said...

Judges are political puppets who will not get the judgment they have coming in this life but will in the next .The justices enforce the rights of those who bribe them threaten them or give them political power . In South the Alabama Judges denied Indians and Negroes and poor whites their rights because capitalist plantation owners controlled the elections of Alabama Appellate judges .The Indians and the Negroes lost all their rights so the corrupt judges could get elected and walk with self righteous aire . Nothing but corrupt puppets wearing robes. It has not changed. The US Chief Justice Rehnquist was a drug junkie a mere puppet of special interest subject to blackmail and removal by special interest that put him in US Supreme Court.[ A puppet.]
Justice Patterson on Alabama criminal court of appeals was corrupt former governor who gave kickbacks to my Uncle William Cashion . In American Justice the courthouse is a whorehouse where corrupt judges sell bodies and right of defendants for those who control the political machine. Pontius Pilate a judge said I find no fault in Jesus but then he was threatened that he would be called Jesus co conspirator a man who others called King equal to Ceasar .So to save himself and prove loyalty to Ceasar rather than justice he delivered him to corrupt men who ran Jerusalem society. Times have not changed. Judeo Christian judicial system always has on hypocrisy men who claim to enforce just law but merely try to hold on to their position when threatened. They will get Justice in next life. In the South African Americans were hung from trees by the hundreds and southern judges did one was convicted because those in power gave judges their jobs. Partners in murders of hundreds. The US had bombed and killed six million civilians since world war two without a declaration of war. Millions of murders . No trial . No vote of Congress just need of wealthy controlling foreign policy for countries to be destroyed. Judges denied all relief from victim of agent orange because they are puppets of corrupt killers.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, Scott shot the officer with his taser, twice.

legalschnauzer said...

According to whom? Can you provide a link?