The sentencing hearing begins Monday for a white, former South Carolina police officer who drew international infamy for the videotaped killing of an unarmed black man shot in the back as he fled a traffic stop in 2015.
Michael Slager, 36, could face life in prison and a $250,000 fine for using excessive force in the death of Walter Scott.
Slager’s state murder trial ended in a hung jury a year ago. He pleaded guilty in May to one federal count under a deal that drops the state charges and two other federal counts.
Slager was a North Charleston police officer on April 4, 2015, when he pulled over Scott’s 1991 Mercedes for a broken tail light. Scott, 50, fled on foot, and Slager pursued him into a nearby field. Slager said Scott resisted arrest and, in an ensuing struggle, attempted to grab the officer’s stun gun.
Slager said he feared for his life when he shot Scott multiple times.
Scott’s family has 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 served three jail stints due to child support arrears.
Slager was not wearing a body camera when the confrontation took place. But a bystander captured Scott’s shooting on his cellphone, and the tragic video helped drive a national conversation about police interaction with people of color.
The video begins just seconds before Slager begins shooting and shows Scott fleeing from Slager, who fires eight shots. Slager claimed the physical confrontation took place before the video begins.
The city settled a proposed wrongful death lawsuit with the Scott family for $6.5 million. And state lawmakers approved regulations requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies on body cameras — and provided millions in state money for their purchase.
Slager’s attorney, Andrew Savage III, issued a brief statement after the plea, expressing hope that “Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss.”
The sentencing hearing, which could take a week, will include testimony to determine if Slager’s crime constituted voluntary manslaughter or murder. Prosecutors say the crime was murder and that Slager should get the maximum sentence. Savage says Slager is not safe in prison and doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of his life there.
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for the Scott family, told the Associated Press he believes Slager deserves a life sentence. But he said his clients would get closure whatever time Slager serves.
“I think everybody’s just ready to close this chapter of life and start the next chapter,” Bamberg said. “But all of them end the same way, and that is that Walter’s not here.”
Source: USA Today