Feds to review police agency at center of Walter Scott case

AP News
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Posted: May 16, 2016 12:38 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The North Charleston police department will become the latest law enforcement agency to undergo an official review by the U.S. Justice Department, a year after the fatal shooting of unarmed black motorist Walter Scott.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said that he and other Justice Department officials would announce details of the comprehensive review during a news conference Tuesday at North Charleston City Hall. The review was requested last month by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who said he thought the department worked well but that suggestions for improvements were always welcome.

The review comes amid state and federal cases against Michael Slager, the former officer captured on cellphone video firing eight times as Scott ran from a traffic stop in April 2015. Shortly thereafter, Slager was fired and his case inflamed a national debate about how white officers treat blacks. His trial on state murder charges is scheduled to begin in October, and he pleaded not guilty last week to federal civil rights charges related to the shooting.

The factors the Justice Department's Community-Oriented Policing Services program will likely consider include a comparison of the city's racial makeup and its police department. As of March 2015, the month before Scott's death, records provided by the police department showed that, while nearly half the residents of North Charleston are black, the majority of the city's police force was white.

Of the department's 324 officers at the time, 60 of them — or about 18 percent — were black. The department had 256 white officers accounting for about 79 percent of the force. Eight Hispanic officers accounted for nearly 3 percent. By comparison, 2010 U.S. Census statistics show that about 47 percent of the city's 98,000 residents are black.

A federal review focuses on department policies, and other cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Las Vegas have requested them after shootings involving police. Justice Department officials did not immediately return an email seeking comment on how many other police departments are under review nationwide.

A review differs from a federal investigation, which focuses on misconduct within a local police agency and can ultimately bring about sweeping reforms. Authorization for the Justice Department to conduct such investigations came under a 1994 civil rights law passed after black motorist Rodney King was videotaped being beaten by police in Los Angeles. A jury's acquittal of the officers set off riots in 1992, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured. Several of the officers were later convicted on federal civil rights charges.

The Justice Department has opened 23 investigations of police departments since the start of the Obama administration. Other departments that have gone under the microscope include those in Chicago; Cleveland; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Newark, New Jersey; Seattle, New Orleans and Ferguson, Missouri, where the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown prompted months of protests.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/