The U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to conduct a comprehensive review of the police department in a South Carolina city where a white officer shot dead an unarmed black man a year ago, the federal government said on Monday.
The city of North Charleston last month requested the review from the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) as a trust-building step that has won praise from civil rights lawyers.
The Justice Department, which is responsible for upholding civil rights and has the power to intervene locally if needed, announced the review in a brief statement and called a news conference for Tuesday in North Charleston.
Patrolman Michael Slager killed motorist Walter Scott, 50, on April 4, 2015, firing eight times at his back as he fled a traffic stop for a broken tail light. A bystander captured the shooting on cell phone video.
Slager is awaiting state trial on a murder charge and was also indicted last week on suspicion of U.S. federal civil rights violations. His lawyers say he acted in self-defense.
North Charleston still simmers with racial tension and black residents say they continue to be harassed and humiliated by law enforcement.
North Charleston has avoided the rioting that took place in other U.S. cities after police killings of black men, but African Americans complain of being subjected to overly aggressive policing and racial profiling. A city of 106,000, its population is 47 percent black and the police force is about 78 percent white.
The mission of COPS is to improve policing by state and local law enforcement through training, grants to hire more people and to test policing strategies, according to its website.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers requested the review, a move welcomed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and South Carolina civil rights leaders.
Summey says steps have been taken to rebuild trust. Police are now equipped with body cameras and the department launched two new community outreach programs, in addition to the request for a COPS review.
“Our efforts have uncovered some areas in which we could benefit from outside assistance,” Summey and Driggers said in a letter to COPS last month.
The letter also asked for help in improving the department’s public perception and sought help for police training, creating a citizen panel and “more wide-ranging assistance.”
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Grebler)