Ernest Satterwhite, 68, was shot and killed in his own driveway by a police officer earlier this year. Outrage has ensued in the North Augusta, South Carolina, community after it was announced police officer Justin Craven will only face a misdemeanor charge for the fatal shooting.
Satterwhite was shot in his driveway after he led Craven on a nine-mile long, low-speed car chase. Satterwhite had a history of refusing to pull over for police, as evidenced by the three charges for doing so on his record. Regardless of this habit, Satterwhite had no violent charges on his criminal record.
Craven followed Satterwhite at low speeds for nine miles as the 68-year-old man drove home, the Associated Press reports. When Satterwhite arrived at his house and pulled into his driveway, Craven ran up to the man's driver’s side door and fired multiple shots, killing him instantly. The elderly Satterwhite is accused by Craven of trying to grab Craven’s gun when the police officer approached his car, but no evidence exists to support that claim.
Both the North Augusta Police Department and local prosecutors admit the shooting was unjustified. Prosecutors tried to charge Craven with voluntary manslaughter, but a grand jury declined to press that charge. Instead, Craven was only charged with misconduct in office – a misdemeanor charge typically reserved for police officers who accept bribes or sheriffs who get inmates to do their personal work.
Leaders in the Augusta community say the light charge is an insult to the value of Satterwhite’s life.
"It diminishes the nature of the violation — of the death. This man's life is only worth a misdemeanor?" State Rep. Joe Neal told the Associated Press.
University of South Carolina criminology professor says there was no reason for Craven to run up on Satterwhite’s car with his gun drawn.
"Why would he run up to the car like that?" Alpert asked. "Why would he put himself in a situation to use deadly force? Why would he put his gun close enough for him to grab it?"
As is often the case with police shootings, many details of what transpired in Satterwhite’s death are being withheld from the public. The indictment of Craven only says he used excessive force when he shot and killed Satterwhite. Alpert says this practice of concealing details desperately needs to be changed.
"They work for us — the public," Alpert said. "You need to put as much accurate information out there as you can to get in front of the issue and create your own story."
Satterwhite’s family is suing the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, Edgefield County and the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office. The lawsuit claims Craven ignored orders from Edgefield deputies to let them deal with Satterwhite after he crossed into their jurisdiction. The lawsuit also claims Satterwhite never reached for Craven’s gun, and that officers restrained him and left him on the ground to die after removing him from the car.
Craven is currently on paid administrative leave.
Photo Credit: WRDW Screenshot, Associated Press