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4 Dec, 2017 21:30

Ex-cop to be sentenced in videotaped killing of unarmed black man

Ex-cop to be sentenced in videotaped killing of unarmed black man

The former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager will be sentenced and fined this week in the federal civil rights case over the the shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who fled a traffic stop in 2015.

Slager’s murder trial ended in a hung jury in December 2016. In May, he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Scott’s civil rights, under a plea deal that dropped state charges and two other federal charges.

Slager was a North Charleston police officer on April 4, 2015, when he pulled over Walter Scott’s vehicle for a broken tail light. Scott, 50, fled on foot. Slager pursued him into a nearby field before firing multiple shots into Scott’s back, killing him. The officer maintained that Scott resisted arrest and attempted to grab his gun, and that he feared for his life when he opened fire.

The officer was not wearing a body camera. However, the shooting was captured on camera by a bystander. The recording, viewed over 1 million times online, begins just seconds after Slager begins shooting and shows Scott 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.

The video also 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.

Slager claimed the physical confrontation took place before the recording started. He was fired from the North Charleston police force when the video became public.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence, arguing that Slager committed second-degree murder and should be punished for obstructing justice. They say Slager repeatedly lied to authorities and in court, including not initially telling police he shot Scott in the back while he was running away.

Slager's attorneys said the offense amounts to voluntary manslaughter. They argued Slager never lied, but the traumatic situation affected his recollection.

"A Swiss cheese memory is a symptom of stress, not an indication of lying," his attorneys wrote in court papers, citing expert testimony.

Justin Bamberg, the attorney for the Scott family, told AP he believed Slager deserves a life sentence.

“I think everybody’s just ready to close this chapter of life and start the next chapter,” Bamberg told USA Today. “But all of them end the same way, and that is that Walter’s not here.”

Scott’s family said he owed $18,000 in child support and may have run for fear he would be jailed. The Coast Guard veteran and father of four had three stints in jail due to child support arrears.

The video of Scott’s shooting provoked Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. North Charleston settled a proposed wrongful death lawsuit with the Scott family for $6.5 million. As a result of the settlement, South Carolina lawmakers approved regulations requiring law enforcement to adopt body cameras and provided millions in state money for their purchase.