South Carolina policeman indicted in shooting death of unarmed black man

Reuters News
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Posted: May 27, 2015 7:21 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C (Reuters) - A grand jury in South Carolina indicted a white police officer on Wednesday on a felony charge of firing his weapon into a vehicle while it was occupied, killing an unarmed black man.

Justin Gregory Craven, 24, an officer in North Augusta, South Carolina, chased the unarmed motorist for 13 miles (21 km) before stopping him on a dirt road behind his home in February 2014, according to a prosecutor.

Craven then got out of his car and approached the motorist, Earnest Satterwhite, 68, and fired at him several times through his car window, killing him, authorities said.

After a grand jury refused to indict Craven on a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials pursued the felony firing charge, said state prosecutor Donnie Myers.

Craven admitted to firing into Satterwhite's car, according to the arrest warrant. There had been a struggle at the car window, the prosecutor said.

"There's been no evidence that Mr. Satterwhite was armed," Myers said.

Craven's indictment on the weapons charge comes as law-enforcement agencies across the United States face increasing scrutiny over their use of force, particularly against minorities.

A Cleveland police officer was found not guilty on Saturday in the 2012 shooting deaths of an unarmed black man and a woman after a high-speed car chase.

Craven was arrested on April 7, the same day that murder charges were announced against another white South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, in the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away when Slager fired eight bullets at his back.

An attorney for Craven could not immediately be reached.

The grand jury that refused to indict Craven on a charge of voluntary manslaughter indicted him on misconduct in office. That charge is pending.

The shooting by Craven was captured on videotape by a dashboard camera. Police have not released the footage.

It may not become public until after Craven's trial, said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the State Law Enforcement Division, noting that defense attorneys have objected to its release.

The felony weapons charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000, Berry said.

Prosecutors expect the trial to begin in the fall.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Mohammad Zargham)