Slager case is latest police-involved killing to leave public in limbo

The topic of police/community relations was discussed at a City Council workshop.

Since word began bubbling up on social media about an unarmed black teen shot dead in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2012, by a white neighborhood watch volunteer, attention has galvanized around shootings and other killings by police of unarmed black males.

Monday's decision in South Carolina by a judge to declare a mistrial in the case of a police officer charged with murder is but one of many cases.

Anecdotal examination of some of the more well-publicized cases since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead almost five years ago by George Zimmerman show that most of the time, police officers are not indicted or, if there is a trial, they are acquitted. In many instances, details of the cases or acquittals have touched off protests nationwide, even the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here is the status of some of the cases that have generated the most public attention:

- Trayvon Martin, Sanford, Fla. - The unarmed, black 17-year-old was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman, then 28, called police to report a suspicious person in the area and authorities instructed Zimmerman not to approach the person. Moments later, Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, claiming self defense. On July 13, 2013, a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or of manslaughter.

- Eric Garner, Staten Island, N.Y. - The unarmed, black 43-year-old died in what has been described as a police chokehold after police approached him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. In cell phone video captured at the scene, Garner, an asthmatic, is heard shouting "I can't breathe" multiple times as police press his head into the ground. The New York City Police Department prohibits chokeholds. On Dec. 3, 2014, a grand jury declined to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Federal authorities are investigating whether Garner's civil rights were violated in the case. On Oct. 24, 2016, The New York Times reported that outside investigators were replacing the New York representatives for the Federal Bureau of Investigation handling the federal probe.

- Michael Brown, Ferguson, Mo. - The unarmed, black 18-year-old was fatally shot by Police Officer Darren Wilson, 28, on Aug. 9, 2014, after Wilson attempted to detain Brown, believing he fit the description of a suspect in a theft at a convenience store. Wilson claimed Brown reached inside his police vehicle for his gun. Wilson fired two shots at Brown from inside his vehicle, one grazing him. Brown ran, then turned and moved toward Wilson, at which point Wilson shot him multiple times, killing him. On Nov. 24, the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury would not indict Wilson.

- Tamir Rice, Cleveland - The unarmed, black 12-year-old was fatally shot by trainee Police Officer Timothy Loehmann on Nov. 22, 2014, after Loehmann responded to a call of a person brandishing what appeared to be a weapon at a park on Cleveland's West Side. Shortly after arriving on the scene, Loehmann shot the boy. It was later determined Rice was pulling out a toy gun when he was shot. On Dec. 28, 2015, a grand jury declined to indict Loehmann or his trainer, Police Officer Frank Garmback. Rice's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit, maintaining the city was negligent in the death. A settlement in that case announced April 25, 2016, in U.S. District Court stipulated that the city of Cleveland would pay $6 million to the family.

- Freddie Gray, Baltimore - Police stopped Gray, 25, and arrested him on April 12, 2015, suspicion of possessing a switchblade after Gray spotted police and began running. He died in a hospital a week later, on April 19, of severe neck injuries sustained while being bounced around in the back of a police van, where he was shackled and handcuffed but not secured in a seatbelt. The medical examiner ruled Gray's death was a homicide. Six officers were indicted. A first trial ended in a hung jury, three officers were later acquitted and on July 27, prosecutors dropped all charges as another three officers were about to go to trial. State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said that after "a great deal of thought and prayer," she acknowledged to herself that it would be difficult to secure convictions.

- Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge, La. - Police were responding to an anonymous tip on July 5, 2016, about a man with a gun when they found Alton Sterling, 37, in front of a convenience store at the spot where he frequently sold CDs and tapes. Sterling was fatally shot after a struggle with two white police officers that was partially recorded by an onlooker with a cell phone. The Department of Justice is investigating the death. The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported on Nov. 22 that there is a growing sense in the area that the federal investigation is ending. Gov. John Bel Edwards, however, told the news organization on Nov. 21, "We have no idea when the Department of Justice will make an announcement."

- Philando Castile, Twin Cities, Minn. - St. Anthony, Minn., Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, 28, stopped Castile's vehicle on July 6, 2015, after seeing that one of Castile's tail lights was out. Dash cam recordings also indicated Yanez said the occupants of Castile's vehicle resembled suspects in a recent convenience store robbery. The case of Castile, 28, of St. Paul, drew national attention after his fiancee, who was in the car with him, broadcast the stop and Castile's death live on social media. The fiancee's 4-year-old daughter was in the backseat at the time of the incident. Yanez has said he thought Castile was reaching for his gun but his fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, has said Castile was reaching for his driver's license. Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. On Nov. 18, he pleaded not uilty to the charges and was released on his own recognizance. His next court appearance is Dec. 19.

- Keith Lamont Scott, Charlotte, N.C. - Police Officer Brentley Vinson fatally shot Scott, 43, after police reported to an apartment complex parking lot looking for someone with an outstanding warrant. Scott's family maintained that he was sitting inside of his SUV reading a book, but Charlotte District Attorney Andrew Murray said evidence showed Scott stepped out of his vehicle carrying a gun and ignored at least 10 commands from five officers to drop the weapon, the Charlotte Observer reported. On Nov. 30, Murray said he found no legal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting. He also said he found no evidence of a book in Scott's vehicle.

Melanie Eversley is on Twitter @melanieeversley.

Copyright 2016 WCNC


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