In a plea deal with federal prosecutors Tuesday, former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager admitted to using excessive force in the shooting death of Walter Scott.
Slager shot Scott as the unarmed man was running away from Slager after a traffic stop in April 2015. In a reversal from his previous account of events, Slager admitted in court Tuesday that he did not shoot the unarmed man in self-defense. He admitted to knowing that his use of force was unreasonable.
Scott’s death sparked renewed “Black Lives Matter” protests after the 50-year-old became the latest in a series of unarmed black men killed by police.
Slager pleaded guilty in US District Court in South Carolina to a federal one charge of deprivation of rights under color of law. In exchange for the plea, state murder charges, as well as two other federal charges, will be dismissed.
Slager faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced later this year.
“We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss,” Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage, said. “As a sentencing date has not yet been determined, we will refrain from further comment at this time.”
The shooting … and the explanation
Slager was an officer for the North Charleston Police Department when he pulled Scott over for a broken tail light. A few moments later, Scott ran away.
A foot chase ensued, and a bystander’s cell phone video captured Slager firing eight times — striking Scott several times in the back.
Slager later said he feared for his life because Scott had grabbed his Taser. But the officer’s account did little to calm the backlash over the killing.
The North Charleston police chief fired Slager, saying he was “sickened” by what he saw. And a state prosecutor filed a murder charge against Slager.
But in December, a judge declared a mistrial in Slager’s state murder trial after the jury failed to reach a verdict. At the time, prosecutor Scarlett A. Wilson vowed to retry Scott.
After the mistrial, Scott’s family members said justice will eventually prevail.
“In my heart, I will find the peace to forgive Michael Slager,” brother Anthony Scott said. “But at this present time, until my family can see justice, no, there’s no forgiveness.”