Early this month, South Carolina prosecutor Scarlett Wilson announced the indictment of white police officer Michael Slager over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, in North Charleston, South Carolina, in April. Now, she is set to bring murder charges against another white man, Dylann Storm Roof, who is suspected of killing nine black people at a historically African-American church in Charleston Wednesday.
These racially charged, high-profile cases fall to a white prosecutor who has longstanding Southern roots and an uneasy relationship with the black community. A Republican and South Carolina native, Wilson attended Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina School of Law. Wilson is the first woman to hold the office of solicitor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Charleston, according to her official profile.
“She’s not in good standing with the black community,” Pastor Thomas Dixon, the leader of a local group, the Coalition: People United To Take Back Our Community, told BuzzFeed News. “She goes in on black folks and Hispanic folks,” he said. “It’s like one rule book was made for them, but when it comes to the white population there’s a whole different set of rules.”
Slager’s indictment on murder charges after he shot and killed Scott therefore came as a surprise to some, even as Wilson sounded almost indifferent while discussing possible jurors for Slager’s trial.
“The issue is whether or not they can put everything they’ve heard aside, and make a decision based on the facts and the evidence that are presented in court,” CNN quoted Wilson as saying after announcing Slager’s indictment June 8. “I feel sure the people of Charleston County can decide it.”
Scott was unarmed and running from the police when Slager shot him in the back multiple times after using his Taser. Slager said he felt threatened and claimed Scott had taken his Taser during the April shooting, but civilian video footage revealed otherwise.
Last year, attorney Desa Ballard claimed Wilson fostered “an office environment with the attitude ‘We do what we can get away with.’” Ballard’s lawsuit accused Wilson’s office of withholding evidence from defense lawyers in at least two cases. The solicitor denied it.
“Her reputation has always been to back the police department,” James Johnson, president of the local branch of the National Action Network, told BuzzFeed. “The history led us to believe not to trust her.”
Caught in North Carolina Thursday, Roof has been charged with one count of murder so far, and more charges are expected to follow. He is scheduled to appear in court in Charleston Friday.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind this is a hate crime,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said Thursday. In addition to charges of murder, Roof could also face federal counts associated with civil-rights violations and hate crimes.