CHARLESTON, S.C. — The U.S. Justice Department has refused to release an unfinished report on a South Carolina police department in connection with the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white officer, saying it no longer releases such information out of a “commitment to respecting local law enforcement.”
The response from Justice Department official Chaun Eason was reported by The Post and Courier of Charleston, which had filed an open-records request. North Charleston officials had requested the report after the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott by patrolman Michael Slager. Federal officials had said the report was nearly completed before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the review program last month.
Police-reform advocates and a police advisory commission had hoped it would serve as a blueprint for change in the North Charleston Police Department. In April 2015, Scott was pulled over for a traffic violation by Slager, who said he fired in self-defense when Scott tried to grab Slager’s Taser. Eyewitness video shows Scott was shot as he ran away. Slager pleaded guilty to federal charges and awaits sentencing.
Scott’s shooting led to calls for a broad civil rights investigation of the department, but Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers asked the Justice Department last year for a more specific review of police policies and recommendations. Summey said he was disappointed federal officials weren’t going to complete the report.
Eason said there is a legal exception to the open-records law that allows the agency to withhold certain communications.
The Justice Department’s redefined mission under Sessions also prevents a discretionary release, Eason said.
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com