Return to Transcripts main page


More on South Carolina Police Shooting Case; FBI Investigating Deadly Police Shooting; U.S.: Al Qaeda Exploiting Yemen Chaos. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 8, 2015 - 16:30   ET



[16:33:47] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

More now on our national lead, that disturbing case out of South Carolina, where a police officer was caught on video shooting an unarmed man in the back as he ran away, killing him. Officer Michael Slager, a five-year member of the North Charleston Police Department, now faces a murder charge in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott.

Video evidence not only seems to contradict the officer's original story about what happened, but raises new questions about his background and his training.


TAPPER (voice-over): Former North Charleston Police Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager is in jail this afternoon, fired by the police force and arrested and charged with murder.

It's a charge that came only after the release of this graphic video, showing the 33-year-old police officer shooting a fleeing resident eight times. The victim, Walter Scott, died at the scene.

While the full context of the shooting has yet to be determined, the damning video has put the officer under a spotlight.

DOROTHY WILLIAMS, NORTH CHARLESTON CITY COUNCILWOMAN: Everyone is so happy that this police officer is in jail, charged with murder, is not given a bond, and they are very content, because it happened and no one tried to cover up for this police officer.

[16:35:08] TAPPER: Slager was a five-year veteran of the North Charleston police force. According to this application from 2009, he sought a full-time position after completing six years in the U.S. Coast Guard, writing he -- quote -- "enforced federal laws and treaties and provided security in Port Canaveral, Florida."

It was a military affiliation that he had in common with the victim of the shooting. Walter Scott, 50, was also a Coast Guard veteran.

MICHAEL SLAGER, DEFENDANT: Shots fired. Subject is down. He grabbed my Taser. TAPPER: Records show officer Slager had completed at least two Taser

training courses, along with mandatory ethics, firearm and bias profiling training less than a year before Saturday's fatal shooting. Police documents also showed that, in 2013, a local resident being questioned about a burglary complained about Slager. He claimed he had been Tased for no reason and that Slager slammed him and dragged him, but Slager was exonerated.

Until now, a failure to write a police report in a -- quote -- "unavoidable patrol car accident" are the only other blemishes in Slager's file. If convicted of murder, the husband and soon-to-be father faces up to 30 years in prison or even the death penalty.


TAPPER: Officer Michael Slager, former officer Michael Slager, sits in jail right now with no word on when he will face a judge. The lawyer representing him initially after the shooting has now quit. So what will a potential trial look like? Will he actually face the death penalty? That's next.


[16:40:48] TAPPER: Welcome back to the lead.

Continuing our national lead, a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer charged with murder for a deadly encounter caught on tape in an extraordinary case that's gained national attention. After all, it's highly unusual for an officer to face murder charges for firing in the line of duty. But that charge is likely due to another rare aspect of this story, the fact that key moments were caught on video.

Let's bring in Paul Butler. He's a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Georgetown University Law School. Let's also bring in CNN legal analyst, former criminal defense attorney Paul Callan.

Gentlemen, I wanted to start with showing the video while describing how the police officer and the police department described it. They describe the officer and Mr. Scott getting into a fight over -- a struggle over the Taser and then -- quote -- "During the struggle, the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him" -- unquote.

Paul Butler, did anything in the original officer's account square with that?


First, let me say, as a prosecutor, you never have evidence this good, this probative. This is actually a crime going down on videotape. And the defense attorney is going to try to say, you can't believe your eyes. Ladies and gentlemen, you can believe what you see. The officer had no justification for shooting this man eight times in the back while he's running away.

TAPPER: And, Paul Callan, what does the police officer have in terms of legal recourse when he gets into a struggle with somebody over the Taser? Is it the fact that Mr. Scott was running away and posed absolutely no harm to him whatsoever that is the damning fact here?


And under federal law and, indeed, under state court decisions, assuming that you're chasing somebody who has even committed a crime -- and, here, the crime would be if he fought with the cop and tried to hit him or take his Taser -- you still don't have the right to shoot him. You only have the right to shoot him if he's endangering you at the time the shots are fired.

This looked to be a cold-blooded execution. He shot him seven or eight times in the back. We have to see what the autopsy shows. And then what I thought to be most disturbing, after what appeared to be an execution, he then proceeded, when he realized the guy was still alive, to pull Mr. Scott's arms behind his back, which was literally torturing the man after having shot him.

I mean, this is a crime that almost defies belief, just watching the videotape.

TAPPER: And, professor Butler, one of the other things that seems to be caught in this videotape is the police officer picks something up from the ground where he and Mr. Scott may have been struggling, walks over, drops it.


TAPPER: I mean, it appears to be, we don't know what it is, but it appears to be planting evidence.

BUTLER: The way I see it, we have three crimes on this video. We have murder, we have obstruction of justice, and we have tampering with evidence.

The reason why that tampering with evidence is almost more frightening than the murder is because we don't know how many times officers do that when it's not on videotape. Just as many African-Americans, people of color have been complaining about excessive force, they have also had complaints that police treat them unfairly even in gathering evidence, that they plant drugs.

Nobody has believed that. Most people haven't. Now we see it on videotape.

TAPPER: And, Paul Callan, you have been a homicide prosecutor. You have also been taking up civil rights cases against the police recently.

What recourse does the family have in a potential civil rights case here?

CALLAN: Well, they have recourse.

As a matter of fact, we just filed a huge case today in state court. And you can file in state court or federal court. It's called a 1983 civil rights action, and you can sue for the loss of your liberty and the loss of your life.

Now, traditionally, the courts were not receptive to these suits. They tended to be pro-police officer. But over the last six or seven years, there has been a big shift in the federal courts in favor of civilians and more against the police. And it's because, I think, federal judges have seen, nationwide, a pattern of excessive force, of ill-trained police officers using this power to hurt innocent people.

[16:45:04] Now, often it's minority people, members of minority groups, African-Americans or Latinos, but a lot of white people have suffered under the same thing.

I saw the stats for instance in South Carolina. Of course, we don't know what happened in all of those shootings, but a lot of those shootings, as a matter of fact, the majority involved Caucasians being shot. So we are talking about a major problem nationwide.

TAPPER: Paul, I have to take a break. I'm so sorry. Paul Callan, Paul Butler, thank you both.

Coming up, an ominous warning from the secretary of defense, al Qaeda gaining strength in Yemen as the country falls into chaos. U.S. terror officials consider the group one of the biggest threats to the homeland. What is being done to stop them? That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Topping our World Lead today is the escalating violence and chaos in Yemen raising serious concerns among U.S. officials that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP is exploiting that country's devastating civil war.

[16:50:02] Secretary of Defense Ash Carter warning the terrorist group has made quote, "direct gains on the ground," unquote. This comes as the United States says it's speeding up its arms supplies to the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has all the latest.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A wounded fighter tries desperately to crawl out of the crossfire. Under a barrage of bullets, others drag the injured man to safety. This is the chaos in Yemen that the terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is now exploiting to its advantage.

Today, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned that AQAP is taking dangerous advantage of Yemen's collapse. ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: You see them making gains on the ground there as they try to take territory, seize territory.

SCIUTTO: U.S. counter terror officials consider al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula one of the most severe terror threats to the U.S. homeland and to international aviation. The group's master bomb maker, the man behind the underwear bomb plot, still remains on the loose in Yemen.

CARTER: AQAP is a group that we are very concerned with. We all know that AQAP has the ambition to strike western targets including the United States and that's why we have long conducted counter terrorism operations against AQAP.

SCIUTTO: Those counter terrorism operations greatly diminished after U.S. Special Forces tracking the militants had to evacuate the country last month. The U.S. embassy and intelligence gathering operations also closed, and the Yemeni government, America's partner in the terror fight, fell to Iranian-backed rebels.

SETH JORDAN, RAND CORPORATION: Most important, the United States has lost awareness of what's going on in Yemen by pulling out its special operations forces. This is absolutely critical.


SCIUTTO: Now, AQAP is offering a bounty in the amount of 50 pounds of gold for the assassination of Iranian-backed Houthi leaders. It's just another example of how AQAP is trying to take advantage of the collapse there, Jake.

But the real concern of U.S. counter terror officials is that because they are under less counter terror pressure from the U.S., they will have greater ability to carry out attacks abroad and consistently counter terror officials talk about two groups as the main threat to the U.S. It is the Khorasan group based in Syria and Aqap based in Yemen.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Coming up, he's back. Mike Rowe taking on tough jobs, but somebody's got to do it even if that means putting himself in the line of danger. The risky stunt he tried at the rodeo coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. After all the rough and disturbing news in the prior hour of today's show, let's take a breath with the sorbet of our Pop Culture Lead today, some wild nights of prime time TV returning here to CNN.

A brand new season of "Somebody's Got To Do It" with Mike Rowe premieres tomorrow. The host, Mike Rowe is, of course, trying out unique jobs even if they are dangerous. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be ready. Over there. Over there. Over there.


TAPPER: Good lord. Mike Rowe joins me now. Mike, how did you get this idea?

MIKE ROWE, CNN HOST, "SOMEBODY'S GOT TO DO IT": I'm sorry, I'm still stuck on cleanse our palate with the sorbet of pop culture. Honestly, you take my breath away every time.

TAPPER: That's very sweet. I appreciate the harkening back to the sound track of "Top Gun." But tell me about the idea to do this rodeo.

ROWE: It was a bad idea, Jake, but you know something? You can't just run from bad ideas in our line of work. You need to embrace them with both hands or both horns in this case.

It was 25 degrees below zero outside on that day in Chicago so initially I was grateful to be indoors and then they explained what the job was, and then about 2200 pounds of angry flesh came charging at me with sharp horns.

That was super exciting. So I ran from the bull and we basically paid an honest tribute to Frank and Jesse and Cody and the guys who keep the cowboys safe when they get bucked off the bull.

TAPPER: Did you feel that the trainers had your back there or did you think you were about to -- the revenge of all those steaks that you've had?

ROWE: It was a healthy mix of both. You know, I didn't know a whole lot when I walked into it and later, as I got a chance to talk to some of the riders and really get a sense of what goes on overall, I realized how much those guys depend on those three so by the end of the day I had a healthy appreciation for what they do. Still, in the back of your mind you're waiting for your comeuppance.

TAPPER: And you also did -- we saw earlier you, also did time as a rodeo clown, which one was scarier?

ROWE: You know, it really depends on whether or not you catch your own reflection in a mirror. If you see yourself half in and half out of clown makeup, it will haunt your dreams. I won't lie to you.

TAPPER: I'm not a big fan of those things.

ROWE: Honestly, there's a big long unpronounceable word for it. Some sort of phobia. I'm with you, but the clown thing was fairly passive. The bull thing was fairly real.

The craziest part of the day was you survive all the obvious threats and risks, then a latch on a steel gate slams shut and the little tip of your pinky evaporates and suddenly you're just whining all day to cowboys, which is absolutely pointless.

TAPPER: Mike Rowe, I will be watching along with many of our viewers. Thank you so much. You can see the season premiere of "Somebody's Got To Do It" tomorrow night, 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, who is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM".