Shots fired

When police pull the trigger in South Carolina, investigators fail to answer key questions about what happened, fail to document the backgrounds of the officers and demonstrate a clear pattern of double standards that favor police.

An officer in Summerville pumps four bullets through the side and back windows of a fleeing car, killing a young man.

An officer in Duncan sees a woman climb into his cruiser, yells, “Get out or I’ll shoot you!” and then does just that.

An officer in North Charleston shoots eight bullets at Walter Scott’s back, killing him on the spot.
Every 10 days on average, South Carolina law enforcement officers point their guns at someone and pull the triggers — 235 shootings since 2009. Eighty-nine people died, and 96 were wounded.

Each shooting also triggered an investigation into whether officers were justified in using deadly force. With just a few notable exceptions, these officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. To be sure, many cases were open and shut: Armed robbers shooting their way out of convenience stores after holdups; rage-filled drunks bent on destruction; suicidal people daring cops to cut them down.

But a Post and Courier investigation uncovered case after case where agents with the State Law Enforcement Division failed to answer key questions about what happened, failed to document the troubled backgrounds of the officers who drew their guns, and failed to pinpoint missteps and tactical mistakes that could be used to prevent future bloodshed.

Never-before released dashboard videos also reveal a disturbing pattern of officers shooting at and into vehicles. In statements to SLED, officers said they fired because they were afraid of being injured or killed by these cars and trucks. But the videos show that some officers were out of harm’s way when they opened fire. And SLED case files show little or no documentation that the officers’ accounts were challenged over these inconsistencies.

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