Prosecutor: Despite video, officer's shooting was tough case

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 6:23 AM

Prosecutors in the Carolinas have charged at minimum five officers recently with felonies after on-duty shootings, but they're finding that getting jurors to send them to prison can be a distant more challenging challenge.

The prosecutor who allowed a white police officer to avert jail for killing a drunken-driving black man who was chased all the way residence said Tuesday that persuading a SC jury to convict him of a felony would've been difficult.

Prosecutors in the Carolinas have charged at minimum five officers recently with felonies after on-duty shootings, but they're finding that getting jurors to send them to prison can be a distant more difficult challenge.

Solicitor Donnie Myers still believes officer Justin Craven committed a felony when he ran up to Ernest Satterwhite'south car and fired repeatedly through the driver'south window as the 68-year-old man sat in his driveway.

But when he tried to indict Craven for voluntary manslaughter, the grand jury refused, returning a misdemeanor misconduct charge instead. Myers told The Associated Press that he decided then that the only way to obtain any justice for the deceased driver was to proposal a plea deal to this lesser charge.

After all, if a grand jury, with its rules favoring prosecutors, couldn't be convinced of the seriousness of Craven'south actions, getting a unanimous decision from a regular jury would be even more difficult, Myers said.

"We've got to convince all twelve. All the defense has to do is convince one," Myers said.

Craven was sentenced to three years' probation and eighty hours of community service after pleading guilty on Monday. The indictment accused him of "using excessive force and failing to chase and utilize proper procedures."

It'south a challenge for prosecutors as more police officers are charged with on-duty crimes: Unless there is proof of obvious horrible intentions, jurors are frequently wary of second-guessing an officer'south judgment call, said Tom Nolan, a Prof of criminology at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

"People have been conditioned by what they look on television to think that police officers face risky situations all the time," said Nolan, who was a Boston police officer for twenty-seven years. "They give leeway, thinking these extreme situations happen frequently."

Craven'south dashboard camera from February two thousand fourteen shows him charging up to Satterwhite'south open window, gun in hand, and reaching interior with both arms. A struggle ensues interior the car, beyond the camera's view.

Craven said Satterwhite tried to grab his gun. The video shows him stepping back from the car before firing.

The video has number audio to tell what was being said because the battery on Craven'south body microphone had gone dead, State Law Enforcement Div spokesman Thom Berry said.

Craven is the third white officer in the past year to avert any time behind bars after being accused of felonies for killing a black man in the Carolinas.

Another officer, N Charleston'south Michael Slager, is below house arrest waiting for his murder trial for fatally shooting a fleeing black motorist. And former state Trooper Sean Groubert is in jail facing up to twenty years in prison after pleading guilty in March to aggravated assault and battery for shooting a black man who was reaching for his driver'south license at the officer's request.

Prosecutors charged former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs with murder for shooting a man trying to leave a police station, saying he escalated the confrontation. But after two hung juries, prosecutor David Pascoe agreed to a misdemeanor misconduct in office conviction and a year of residence detention. Pascoe said he doubted he could ever obtain a unanimous decision in that case, the most polarizing of his 20-year career.

NC prosecutors dropped a voluntary manslaughter charge against Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick after a jury voted 8-4 to acquit him in the shooting of a black motorist who'd knocked on a door seeking assistance after a car wreck.

In Craven'south case, the officer'south defense team rejected the plea proposal for more than a year, even after Myers persuaded a different grand jury to indict him on the felony charge of firing into an occupied vehicle, carrying up to ten years in prison.

Craven finally took the deal as his trial loomed this week, and Myers said he couldn't rescind the proposal at that point.

"I couldn't back up on that. It'd been offered," Myers said. Besides: "It would've been a tough trial. Based on the chase — it'd have been a tough matter."

Satterwhite'south relatives accepted a nearly $1.2 million settlement from the city of N Augusta in April two thousand fifteen after suing the police department, and the criminal conviction could create it challenging for the 27-year-old Craven to serve again in law enforcement. He currently works as a building inspector for the city.

Defense lawyer Jack Swerling said it was a error in judgment to rush up to the driver, but said Craven'south concern was justified because the 13-minute chase, also captured on dashcam video, showed him swerving into oncoming traffic and off the side of the road, and hitting at minimum two other cars.

State police later said Satterwhite'south blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the valid limit. Ct records indicate the car mechanic had more than a dozen traffic violations, including at minimum three times when he refused to stop for police. The same records also showed that he was never violent toward officers.

Elected prosecutors face pressure from voters who wish them to be fair, but not too tough on the people protecting them, Nolan said.

In Myers' case, getting re-elected is number longer a concern. After forty years as an elected prosecutor, he decided latest mo not to running again after his own arrest in Feb on a charge of driving below the influence.

___

Chase Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter. com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory. ap. org/content/jeffrey-collins

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