White officer who shot black man to death in driveway faces felony charge

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A white police officer who shot a 68-year-old black man to death last year following a chase faces a felony gun charge, in addition to his indictment of misconduct in office.

North Augusta officer Justin Craven was charged Tuesday with discharging a gun into an occupied vehicle in the February 2014 death of Ernest Satterwhite, the State Law Enforcement Division said in a release.

The 25-year-old officer faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 if convicted.

Craven chased Satterwhite for 9 miles beyond city limits to the man's driveway in Edgefield County. After Satterwhite parked, the officer repeatedly fired through the driver-side door.

State Rep. Joe Neal, a Democrat, said the charge is a sad commentary on local politics, saying the prosecutor has charged Craven with what he can to "bring some sort of justice out of this."

In August, a prosecutor sought to charge Craven with voluntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Instead, the grand jury indicted him for misconduct in office.

"It's clearly a circumstance of unjustified shooting," said Neal, a black minister who has spent decades speaking out against racism in law enforcement. "An unarmed man is unjustifiably shot and killed in his own driveway and local politics -- whether it be racial or class or whatever -- won't allow justice to be done."

Craven was released from the Edgefield County jail Tuesday on a personal recognizance bond. Craven's attorney did not immediately return calls to his office.

Craven was placed on administrative leave with pay following the indictment. The agency's release Tuesday referred to Craven as an officer, though his post-arrest employment status is unclear. The North Augusta Department of Public Safety did not immediately return a message.

The family reached a $1.2 million settlement with the city. Family attorney Carter Elliott said the misconduct in office charge was not nearly strong enough.

"This is certainly better," he said of the gun charge. "The family wishes it would be stronger than that."

Little information about the case has been made publicly available. According to an arrest warrant, the shooting was recorded on a dash-cam video and Craven acknowledged shooting into the car.

The family's lawsuit said Craven ignored Edgefield deputies' orders to stop and let them handle the chase when it entered their county, about 2 miles from Satterwhite's home. The suit claims Satterwhite never tried to grab the officer's gun when Craven fired five times, hitting him with four bullets -- two in the chest.

The family said officers yanked the mortally wounded man out of the car, restrained him and left him on the ground until paramedics arrived.

Police records show the former mechanic had been arrested more than a dozen times for traffic violations, most of them for driving under suspension or under the influence. Most of the charges led to convictions. He also was charged at least three times for failing to stop as officers tried to pull him over. His record showed no evidence he ever fought with an officer.