Edgefield, SC — On Monday, former North Augusta police officer Justin Craven pleaded guilty to official misconduct in office. He will not go to jail and his sentence for the misdemeanor charge was a mere 80 hours of community service and three years probation.
No jail, community service, and a misdemeanor charge — for killing an unarmed 68-year-old man — on video.
In February of 2014, Craven began a high-speed chase after watching Ernest Satterwhite Sr. driving erratically through traffic. For 13 minutes, Craven would pursue Satterwhite until he pulled up in his driveway — a move made by many drunk drivers thinking they can make it home to safety.
Satterwhite was blocked in by trees in front of him and police cruisers behind him when Craven approached with his pistol drawn. Instead of pointing the pistol from a few feet away and issuing orders, like he should’ve done, Craven shoved the barrel of his gun into the face of Satterwhite who immediately attempted to move it away.
As the Aiken Standard reports, Craven’s attorney, Jack Swerling said the only mistake that Craven could have made was approaching Satterwhite’s vehicle, “even though there are all sorts of justification for that,” he said.
“He did approach the vehicle, and of course, you saw (Craven’s) arm was grabbed,” said Swerling, adding the shooting was very unfortunate, but “this is not the kind of case we have come accustomed to.”
Toxicology tests would show that Satterwhite had been drinking. However, this fact does not justify what would happen next.
Satterwhite was unarmed, in his stopped car, and at his own house when Craven began firing into his face. In what clearly illustrates his inability to keep his calm in stressful situations, and escalate to immediate violence, Craven fired five shots at point blank range and only two of them hit Satterwhite. However, those two rounds were enough to end his life.
Swerling asserted that his client acted within the law when he killed this 68-year-old unarmed man. He said that his client “feared for his life,” and shot Satterwhite in self-defense in spite of the video showing Craven’s life was never in danger.
Swerling would assert that because Craven didn’t know whether or not Satterwhite had a weapon, he was justified in killing him because he could have had one.
No weapon was ever found.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome, as far as the sentence is concerned,” Swerling said to reporters. “We got probation, no house arrest, and he’s pretty much free to go and live his life the way he wants. He’s got a young family, he’s got a job, and, but for this incident in his life, he’s unblemished.”
Unfortunately for Satterwhite, who, granted, made a poor decision to drink and drive that night, he will not be ‘free to go and live his life.’
The dashcam video of the shooting was kept secret until after the plea as Swerling thought its release would skew the outcome of the trial.
“And that could’ve tainted a jury pool,” he said. “But that was really the reason. We knew that someday we’d have to pick a jury and, you know, if the jury panel, or the pool, respected pool had seen just the last few seconds, they would have made a judgment about what he did and not see what led up to it.”
Of course, people would make a judgment. The only thing that ‘led up to it’ was a chase, that is all. Satterwhite had not shot at officers, charged at officers or shown any aggression other than attempt to move the barrel of a pistol away from his face. He merely ran from the police. This was not worthy of a death sentence.
Instead of Craven being held accountable for taking the life of Ernest Satterwhite Sr., the taxpayers of North Augusta were. After the shooting, Satterwhite’s family received a $1.2 million settlement.
Below is the video. Let us know if you think Craven’s ‘sentence’ was just after watching it.