UPDATE: Per Greg Pollwitz on Twitter, this officer is named Clarence Habersham. I will be submitting an open records request for Officer Habersham’s Incident Report today; however, I expect probable stonewalling. Some members of the legacy media who are covering this story should demand to see this report as soon as possible. Only public pressure will cause the North Charleston PD to release this information.
UPDATE II: The AP has apparently seen a copy of Habersham’s Incident Report. It says apparently nothing at all about Slager’s actions or what he did. Questions still remain about why Habersham did not report Slager’s clear tampering with evidence that occurs right in front of him. CBS news is reporting that the North Charleston PD is investigating Habarsham and other officers who responded to the scene, which is, on the whole, good news.
You might not know it from most of the Internet commentary about the Walter Scott shooting video, but there’s more than one cop caught on camera. Obviously, Michael Slager has been the focus of everyone’s scrutiny in this case as the officer who actually pulled the trigger 8 times at Walter Scott’s back. I think at the end of the day, thanks to the video shot by a courageous passerby, Michael Slager will face justice.
However, what’s just as important or perhaps more important to me is this other cop in the video. I don’t know who he is, whether he is Slager’s partner, or another cop who just happened to respond to a call for backup. I’ve heard nothing about him and no discussion of his role in these events. But what you can see clearly from the video is that he sees the entire fatal shooting go down. He clearly saw that Scott was not threatening Slager with his taser at the time of the shooting. And he clearly sees Slager pick up the taser and plant it on Walter Scott’s body.
And yet, for days after the shooting of Walter Scott, until the video was released to the New York Times, the North Charleston PD was sticking by their statement that Slager feared for his life and that Scott tried to take his taser. The reaction of the North Charleston Police Chief seems to me to have demonstrated genuine surprise at the contents of that tape.
What that means is, the cop highlighted above didn’t tell anyone about what he actually saw – didn’t alert anyone to the fact that Officer Slager’s version of events was less than truthful. Didn’t tell anyone that Slager likely planted the taser on Walter Scott’s body.
Listen, it’s difficult to know with any level of certainty how endemic the problem of police brutality is. The reason for that is pretty simple: because the police, for the most part, have a code of Omerta that is every bit as real as an organized crime family from the movies. And regardless of whether you think police brutality is relatively common or extraordinarily rare, I think most people understand that the real problem is that there’s a lack of meaningful accountability on the occasions where police do go off the rails – however common or uncommon that might be.
Why does this happen? Because police officers like the one highlighted above allow it to happen. Because it’s become a part of police culture that you don’t put things in your incident report that contradict the other cops on the scene, even when you watch another cop likely plant evidence right in front of your face.
We need to know who this cop is. And we need to see his incident report in this shooting. We need to know if he lied to help cover up what happened, and if so, he needs to face justice as well. And if he told the truth in his report then we need to ask questions of the North Charleston PD brass regarding why they allowed Slager’s clearly false story to spread until the video was released.
We can’t count on someone always being handy to record these incidents in the future. And so the only way we can know the truth is to show that there are consequences for the cover up, not just the crime. And we need to start, in this story, by asking some hard questions of the guy in this video.