- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - Three police officers who shot a black man 19 times were cleared of charges Wednesday because the man had a gun when he was killed, a prosecutor said.

Solicitor Chip Finney said photos from a body camera video shows a gun in Waltki Williams’ hand and a muzzle flash from the weapon as Williams and Sumter Police officer Jeffery Hansen wrestled on the ground. Hansen is white.

That flash, combined with DNA taken from the gun that matched Williams, led Finney to rule the Dec. 10 shooting was justified.

“Officer Hansen put his gun back on his holster and ran down Mr. Williams and chased him and tackled him. He was not trying to kill him. He was not trying to hurt him. Mr. Williams changed with environment by having a weapon and firing that weapon,” Finney said.

Of the officers who shot Williams, Kaela Fleming was white, Dustin Hilliard was white and Darian Quiroz was Hispanic.

Finney showed footage from several different body and dashboard cameras. They started at the mall, where Williams’ 16-year-old girlfriend had called 911 and said Williams was going to shoot her. They showed a chase a few minutes before Williams crashed the stolen SUV he was driving. He then is seen breaking his window and jumping out.

The next 15 seconds are chaotic. But Finney said statements from the officers matched the footage and the physical evidence, which included the gun with Williams’ DNA that had a fired shell that stuck in the ejection port.

The officers shot at Williams 24 times. Nineteen shots hit him, including 17 in the back, according to an autopsy report.

In a lawsuit, Williams’ family said he was unarmed. Before Wednesday, investigators had not released any information that Williams had a gun. The family plans to continue its excessive force and wrongful death lawsuit, attorney Carter Elliott said.

“It’s still hard to understand how we went from a chase to him being shot 17 times in the back in 15 seconds,” Elliott said.

Sumter Police and the State Law Enforcement Division released almost no information about the shooting before Wednesday’s news conference. State police have been reluctant to release police shooting videos in South Carolina until cases are closed, even though First Amendment lawyers said there is no exemption to their release under the state’s open records law.

“You can’t see these videos until you file a lawsuit,” said Elliott, who has handled a number of police brutality cases in South Carolina. “It would be better if they just made them available.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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