Ex-S.C. cop to plead to fed charges; shot fleeing black driver
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A white former police officer planned to plead guilty Tuesday to violating the civil rights of an unarmed black motorist he shot and killed as the man ran from a 2015 traffic stop, according to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Associated Press.
The 13-page document also notes that as part of the deal, state prosecutors would drop a pending murder charge against Michael Slager, effectively bringing to a close both parallel cases against the former North Charleston police officer.
Slager, 35, had been scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday for motions ahead of his federal trial planned for later this month in the April 2015 death of Walter Scott.
A bystander captured Scott’s shooting on cellphone video, which was viewed millions of times. The 50-year-old motorist was running from Slager following a traffic stop when the two men struggled over Slager’s Taser before the officer shot at Scott eight times, hitting him with five bullets in the back.
The white officer’s shooting of an unarmed black man brought fresh scrutiny to the treatment of black men by white officers across the nation.
“The defendant willfully used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances,” according to the plea agreement. “The defendant acknowledges that during the time he used deadly force, he knew that the use of deadly force was unnecessary and excessive, and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances.”
In March, a federal judge ruled that jurors in Slager’s federal trial would be allowed to view the video, over objections by his defense attorneys.
Jurors had deadlocked in December at Slager’s trial. A panel of one black and 11 white jurors — who had seemed close to a verdict, with apparently only one holdout — eventually were unable to reach a unanimous decision after deliberating more than 22 hours over four days.
State prosecutors had been planning to retry him later this year. The deal, which also drops the two remaining federal charges against Slager, drops his pending murder charge.
Slager could face a possible life sentence, as well as $250,000 in fines, when he’s sentenced by a federal judge. That hearing will likely come after federal officials spend several weeks preparing a presentencing report.
In the agreement, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend Slager receive a reduction in his possible offense level, meaning he would get less than the maximum sentence.
After the video went public, Slager was fired by the police department and charged with murder. Scott’s family called for peace in the North Charleston community. Their calls for calm are believed to have helped prevent the kind of violence that erupted elsewhere when black men were killed in encounters with law enforcement.
Scott was pulled over in North Charleston for having a broken taillight on his 1990 Mercedes and then fled the car, running into a vacant lot. Family members have said he may have run because he was worried about going to jail because he was $18,000 behind on child support.
The prosecution argued that the 35-year-old Slager let his sense of authority get the better of him.
The defense maintained that the two men wrestled on the ground, that Scott got control of Slager’s stun gun and then pointed the weapon at the officer before the shooting. The defense also contended there was no way the officer could tell if Scott was unarmed.
Last year, the city of North Charleston reached a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott’s family. In the wake of the shooting, the city also asked that the U.S. Justice Department conduct a review of its police department policies with an eye toward how the department can improve its relationship with residents.