At this writing, the biggest story in the country is the arrest of South Carolina Patrolman Michael Slager for murder after gunning down Walter Scott, an unarmed man originally pulled over for a traffic infraction.
The bust followed the release of shocking video taken by an eyewitness and posted by the New York Times. The clip, on view below, shows Slager shooting Scott multiple times as he runs away, then appearing to plant a taser near his body to make it seem as if the snatching of this non-lethal weapon had prompted the gunplay.
Without the video, it's likely Slager would not have been charged with the slaying — and such accusations against police officers remain extremely uncommon across the country. But is that changing? During her broadcast last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow used the murder count leveled against a Colorado cop, Rocky Ford Officer James Ashby, as an example of how that might be the case.
Prior to Maddow's mention, the Ashby arrest had received relatively slight national attention, and the amount of Colorado coverage has been relatively muted. That's due, in all likelihood, to the small size of Rocky Ford. But an arrest affidavit on view below offers a great deal of detail about the allegations against him.
The shooting reportedly took place at around 2 a.m. on October 12, 2014, in a home near the intersection of Third Street and Swink Avenue in Rocky Ford.
One resident of the home: Jack Jacquez, 27, whose criminal record was substantial but mostly minor — assault, receiving stolen property, marijuana possession, DUI and a slew of other traffic-related offenses.
The affidavit says Ashby was on routine patrol, accompanied by a civilian on a ride-along, when he saw Jacquez skateboarding in the middle of the street. Ashby maintains that he called to him, saying, "Hey bro," to which Jacquez responded, "Fuck you," then climbed off his skateboard and jogged to his house..
This account was contradicted by the civilian who'd been riding with Ashby — the brother of another police officer. He told investigators Jacquez had not mouthed off to the officer.
Ashby followed Jacques inside without identifying himself as a police officer, the report states. There, Jacques is said to have reached into a bag in what Ashby considered to be an aggressive manner, then walked away, ignoring what Ashby described as an order to "show me your fucking hands."
Later, Ashby told authorities that Jacquez reached for a baseball bat — the rationale for the officer to open fire on him, even though investigators believe he was not in a position to strike Ashby.
Relatives say Ashby shot Jacquez twice in the back while he was standing next to his mother — after which Ashby pepper-sprayed him.
The presence of witnesses, including Jacquez's mom and the civilian rider, was likely key in Ashby's arrest, just as the video was when it came to Michael Slager.
The arrest affidavit for Ashby is uncommonly long and detailed. It includes photos of the home's exterior....
...as well as the bag into which Jacques allegedly reached and its benign contents....
....and the baseball bat:
Clearly, authorities understand how challenging it may be to get a conviction in a case like this — and indeed, Ashby pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in February. The trial is expected to get underway this summer.
No such dates have been set in the Slager matter. But expect them to be followed closely by press across the country, much more so than for Ashby — at least thus far.
Look below to see the New York Times video of the Slager-Scott shooting, Associated Press coverage of Ashby in court, the Ashby arrest affidavit, the police portrait of Slager, plus booking photos for both officers charged with murder.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.