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I almost erased cell phone video, says witness to police shooting

Technically Incorrect: The man who filmed a police officer fatally shoot Walter Scott says he was frightened there would be repercussions if he came forward. He says he's still frightened.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Feidin Santana, witness to the shooting. NBC screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The video has been seen around the world.

Jaws have dropped at the clinical nature of a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., firing eight shots at 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, a black man, and fatally wounding him.

The officer, 33-year-old Michael Slager, has been fired from the force and charged with murder. The mayor of North Charleston said that, following the incident, the city has ordered 150 bodycams for the police department on top of the 101 already on order.

The incident is yet another in a growing body of citizen videos providing crucial eyewitness evidence in altercations of all kinds between cops and civilians, from last year's incident in Staten Island, N.Y., in which Eric Garner died after police officers subdued him with a chokehold, to the moment last month when a police officer went overboard in ranting at an Uber driver. Footage from cop-worn bodycams, meanwhile, sometimes can serve to dispel suspicions about what measures the police have taken.

But what of the man who took the video of the Walter Scott shooting? He's frightened, even now.

In an interview with MSNBC, Feidin Santana said: "I knew the magnitude of this and I even thought about erasing the video."

He explained: "I felt my life with this information might be in danger." He thought about leaving town. Permanently, that is.

Santana said that he first looked at the police report and it didn't describe the action he'd witnessed. He said he watched the first news reports of the incident.

Then: "I just put myself in the position of the family."

Speaking to NBC, Santana said that he was walking to work when he witnessed Scott and Slager confronting each other.

Before he began to record, Santana said he saw Scott running away from Slager. "His reaction was to get away from the Taser," said Santana.

After the shooting, Slager had called in to police headquarters and said that Scott had grabbed his Taser. Santana said this wasn't the case.

"I'm still scared," said Santana. He said he's changed his routine of walking to his job at a barber shop. People know where he lives. He worries there might be reprisals. And all because he filmed what happened on his phone.

Santana's cell phone video made all the difference. If the video hadn't existed, it would have been the word of a police officer against that of a civilian. Who would have carried more "credibility"?

Now the simple existence of that video has made people question police reports of other shootings. In South Carolina, for example, police have been exonerated in 200 shootings over the last 5 years. It may well be that most, if not all, were legitimate shootings.

But when you watch that video, it's inevitable that doubts arise.

Santana told MSNBC that he's from the Dominican Republic. He said that in his country people look up to the US and the way it administers justice.

"This needs to stop," he said. "The cops taking advantage of their power to the minorities and to the people."