S. Carolina police officer pleads guilty to slaying unarmed black motorist

S. Carolina police officer pleads guilty to slaying unarmed black motorist
A former police officer, Michael Slager, has pleaded guilty to violating the federal civil rights of an unarmed black motorist, Walter Scott, when he shot him in the back. The charges could send Slager to prison for decades.

The plea from the 35-year-old fired North Charleston police officer came five months after a jury was deadlocked on state murder charges against him in the slaying of Walter Scott.

South Carolina prosecutors had planned to retry Slager, but as part of Tuesday’s plea bargain, they agreed to drop the murder case, according to AP.

The plea agreement made no mention of race, but said Slager used deadly force knowing that it was "unnecessary and excessive, and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances." He could get up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing.

Slager has been out on bond for much of the time since the shooting, but he was handcuffed by US marshals and led out from the court on Tuesday.

“The civil rights aspect of the killing of Walter Scott has always been important to the Scott family,” said Scarlett Wilson, the Scott family solicitor.

“Today, in working with the [Justice] Department, we found justice in a resolution that vindicates the State’s interests by holding former police officer Michael Slager accountable for shooting Mr. Scott (in the back) when Slager knew it was wrong and illegal; as well as justice in a resolution that recognized the egregious violation of Mr. Scott’s civil rights.”

The incident was captured on a bystander’s cellphone video and viewed millions of times online. It showed the 50-year-old motorist breaking away after struggling with Slager over the officer’s Taser. Slager then began firing at Scott’s back from 17 feet away. Five out of eight bullets hit him.

Slager was fired from the North Charleston police force when the video became public.

Slager had pulled over to question Scott on April 4, 2015, because of a broken taillight on the 1990 Mercedes he was driving. Scott’s family said he may have run away from the officer as he was worried about going to jail over an unpaid $18,000 child support debt.

Slager testified at his murder trial that he feared for his life because Scott was trying to grab his stun gun.

The video showed Slager picking the Taser up off the ground and dropping it near Scott’s body in what prosecutors said during the trial was an attempt to plant evidence. Slager denied that, testifying he was following his training in accounting for his weapons.

The jury deliberated for nearly 22 hours over four days whether to convict Slager of murder or voluntary manslaughter before they could not reach a unanimous verdict. A Judge called it "the longest [deliberation] I've ever been involved in."

The chilling footage increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged around the August 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The footage provided a powerful argument for what the Black community had been saying for years – that white officers too often use deadly force against black people.
Slager also testified last year that he regretted what happened.

"My family has been destroyed by it. The Scott family has been destroyed by it. It's horrible," he said, according to AP.

The city of North Charleston agreed to pay $6.5 million to the Scott family in October 2015.