Just days after the shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott by a South Carolina police officer, news broke from The Daily Beast that the officer’s criminal defense attorney had decided to remove himself as counsel for his client.
Michael Slager from North Charleston was charged with murder after he shot Scott eight times during what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. Slager was arrested and charged with murder on Saturday, April 4, the day of the shooting.
But when video footage of the shooting emerged online, Slager’s attorney ended up dropping him on Tuesday, April 7.
Although Aylor couldn’t go into detail about his time as Slager’s attorney, due to attorney-client confidentiality, he did explain the situation to The Daily Beast afterwards.
Aylor said that he couldn’t explain exactly why he decided to withdraw his counsel from Slager, only saying that he did so immediately following the video’s release.
“Whatever factors people want to take from that and conclusions they want to make, they have the right to do that,” Aylor told the online new site. “But I can’t confirm from an attorney-client standpoint what the reason is.”
Aylor also explained that he didn’t have the right facts about the case when he began working with Slager. During the short time he acted as Slager’s attorney, he had stated to the press, “I believe once the community hears all the facts of this shooting, they’ll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this investigation.”
But he retracted this statement when speaking with The Daily Beast, saying, “I think that there’s been a release of information that was not public information at the time, or not discovered at the time at least to any knowledge of mine or anyone else publicly.”
Aylor explained that situations involving video taken of defendants can be tricky, and that at the time he had been unaware of the video’s existence.
Aylor was vague when interviewed regarding the video, saying he couldn’t comment on Slager’s particular case.
“It’s common in any type of case when you’re a defense attorney that any kind of information that you’re provided is limited throughout as far as what information you’re given from your client compared to when you actually get to discovery or the evidence, moving all the way to the point of more additional evidence or witnesses coming out as the case progresses. So I think with any case it’s always a changing situation, or it can be,” he said.
“In police misconduct cases, it is not uncommon for an officer’s account of the events, as often contained in his or her police report, to be inconsistent or even refuted by the video evidence, particularly when the officer is unaware of the video evidence at the time he or she writes the report,” says Paul Dworak, Attorney, Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP. “This can be in the case of cell phone and surveillance videos. Video evidence is very important in these cases. It provides objective evidence for the jury – that is, evidence the jury can evaluate for themselves. The jury does not have to take the officer’s word for it.”
The case has drawn national attention as yet another example of a white officer killing an unarmed black man — a situation that has occurred several times in recent months since the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others.
However, some also think that Aylor should be held responsible for the role that he played (or didn’t play) in the justice system.
Noah Feldman, a Bloomberg columnist and professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, spoke out against Aylor for removing himself from the case. Feldman claimed that defense attorneys are supposed to act as defense for those who the world thinks guilty.
“Slager’s attorney… has an ethical obligation as a lawyer to defend his client, not to abandon him or harm him by a public act of distancing,” Feldman wrote for the Chicago Tribune.
He also wrote that Aylor may have been breaking a code of conduct put forth by the American Bar Association, stating, “The lawyer is obligated to withdraw only if the representation would lead him to break the rules or the law, if he’s physically or mentally unable, or if he’s fired.” None of those situations applied to Aylor, said Feldman.
During his interview, Aylor expressed his thoughts on the tragedy that had taken place. He also defended the justice system itself.
“At no point, not specific to this case, just generally speaking, is anybody above the law,” he said. “And I think that’s why we have process and court systems and everybody deserves their day in court, but I won’t be participating in anything related to this case moving forward in that regard.”