Officer Justin Craven after being charged with misconduct in the shooting death of Ernest Satterwhite
On April 7, two white police officers in South Carolina were arrested for shooting and killing unarmed black men. One case was told around the world and the other is being quietly swept under the rug. When Officer Michael Slager unjustly shot Walter Scott
in the back over and over again in North Charleston, South Carolina, it's highly likely we would've never really known about it if the disturbing cell phone video of the shooting wasn't released. It was that video that rocked the nation and reverberated around the world. Before the video was released, the local news stories about the shooting were pretty much dismissive of Scott and painted Slager as someone who did what he had to do. The video changed everything.
Just hours after Slager was charged with the murder of Walter Scott, another South Carolina officer, Justin Craven, was arrested for shooting an unarmed black man over and over and over again. Sixty-eight-year-old great grandfather Ernest Satterwhite was shot and killed in the driveway of his home near North Augusta. The dashboard camera of Officer Craven filmed the entire shooting.
Craven's dashcam video has been shown to a few people outside of law enforcement. Several who saw say say it's horrible and offensive, and Satterwhite had no time to respond to Craven. They won't speak on the record because they have been threatened with legal action since the video hasn't been publicly released.
The State Law Enforcement Division's decision to withhold the video contrasts with its handling of another police shooting. Earlier this year the agency quickly released a dashcam video of a case in which a white officer shot an unarmed black man in North Charleston.
The shooting was so egregious that the family of Ernest Satterwhite received a $1.2 million settlement for his wrongful death
. Officer Craven is using the same old tired excuse that Satterwhite tried to go for his gun, but the dashcam video apparently shows that Satterwhite never even got out of his car when Craven fired five times into the car and shot Satterwhite four times at close range.
Instead of being charged with any serious crime in the shooting, Craven was charged with the misdemeanor charge of "misconduct by an officer" and posted a $20,000 bail two hours later.
This much is clear—the early public release of videos of shootings by police has a real impact on how serious the subsequent charges are. If this video is as "horrible and offensive" as public officials privately claim it to be, the public pressure to charge Justin Craven with a serious crime would have been substantial. Instead, his case flew under the national radar and he was charged with a crime in which he could literally just receive a $1,000 fine. While a 10-year sentence for police misconduct is the maximum, police officers are almost never given maximum sentences, even when charged with murder.
We must have credible national standards on police dashcam videos that require them to be released immediately. They are paid for by public funds and are public record. Officers cannot and should not be able to hide under the protection of them being hidden by their colleagues.