COLUMBIA — Last weekend’s fatal police shooting in North Charleston has convinced two Lowcountry lawmakers that the state needs to require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.
Charleston Democrats Rep. Wendell Gilliard and Sen. Marlon Kimpson on Tuesday each called on lawmakers to quit delaying action on two bills that have been stalled in committees.
Gilliard said he stressed the need for urgency before the House went on break two weeks ago.
Since then, 50-year-old Walter Lamer Scott of West Ashley was killed during a confrontation Saturday with Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager after a traffic stop.
A video shot by a bystander shows Scott swiping at what appears to be the officer’s stun gun, then turning and running away. The officer pulls his gun and fires eight shots at the fleeing man, hitting him in the back and killing him.
The officer will be arrested and charged with murder, according to North Charleston officials.
“My goal is to try to utilize modern-day technology to cut through the rumors and the lies when it comes to these unfortunate incidents,” Gilliard said. “Cameras don’t lie.”
The House bill filed by Gilliard has been assigned to a committee but has not been discussed, while the Senate bill co-sponsored by Kimpson has not been voted on after three subcommittee meetings.
“This is an example of why we need to move forward without delay and fund the cost associated with the use of this equipment,” Kimpson added.
Kimpson said several law enforcement agencies raised cost concerns with the Senate panel discussing the bill. He added that the bill would have likely advanced by now if “law enforcement came to the table enthusiastically and endorsed the bill.”
After the release of the video, Kimpson said he will fight harder now to make it law, and to make sure a mandate is in place requiring police officers to use the cameras.
“What happened in North Charleston over the weekend, and what happened in Richland County a few months ago (involving state trooper Sean Groubert) is going to be expensive,” Kimpson said. “We invest in guns (for law enforcement). We ought to invest in technology to save lives.”
While the bills sit in committees, distrust between the police and the community continues to grow, Gilliard said. And he worries about an incident spinning out of control into riots and protests.
“We’ve got a serious issue and we have to take care of it,” Gilliard said. “When we don’t have body cameras in use, unfortunately, everything is left to speculation. And that’s not good for our society and our community.”