Officer Clarence Harbersham is the black officer hovering over Walter Scott’s body in the viral video taken by Feidin Santana. In the video, it clearly shows that Officer Habersham never administered CPR or aid to Walter Scott, despite his report statements. Habersham’s police reports and subsequent statements also never mentioned that now former officer Michael Slager dropped what appears to be the Taser gun next to the body of Walter Scott. It’s probably fair to state the reasons for his omission about the Taser or black object being dropped is obvious—to support the cover up of his fellow officer Slager. Some African Americans in North Charleston, South Carolina refer to the action as “Code Blue”, a code of conduct to protect police bad conduct. Habersham’s statement of giving aid to Mr. Scott which turned out to be false is grounds for charges on obstruction of justice, filing a false report and other similar charges. The question remains as to why Officer Habersham has not been charged.
Whenever a non-police witness provides a statement that is materially false and intended to obstruct a police investigation, they are usually charged. Police should not be any different in these instances. All that Office Habersham was likely trying to do was stand with Officer Slager in his false statement. There must be consequences for police giving false statements once discovered. It should not be a case of “no harm no foul” now that Officer Slager has been charged with murder. Without the video of Mr. Santana, it is doubtful if the police would have charged Officer Slager as there were two officers who presented their version of events. The video was crucial in seeing that Officer Slager was charged for murder. And it should be crucial for seeing that Clarence Habersham is also charged for obstruction of justice, filing a false report and any other similar charges available under South Carolina law.
The National Bar Association, the largest African American association of lawyers, has called for Officer Habersham to be terminated and indicted. He should not be allowed to continue as an officer under the circumstances. We are not talking about a non-essential statement in a routine car stop. This is a case of enormous magnitude of a murder investigation. Police Officers are required to report truthful facts in their investigations. And there must be consequences for their failure to report the truth. If no consequences exist, then this type of behavior will continue.
Beyond the use of body cameras, the known false statements of a police officer to impede a criminal investigation must be treated in the same fashion as with any other witnesses. In reality, the false statements of police officers should be held to a higher standard. Their job is to protect and serve. And a police officer cannot protect and serve persons when he or she is providing false and materially misleading information in a murder investigation. Officer Clarence Habersham needs to be suspended without pay or terminated and also charged for the appropriate criminal offenses he committed. North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers stated the Scott video “sickened” him. It should move him to suspend without pay or terminate Officer Clarence Habersham. It’s the right thing to do to ensure that all parties are held accountable in the case of Walter Scott.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She is featured regularly on Al Jazeera America, BET, C-Span, Fox 5 News, RT America and TV One, among other outlets.