Former North Charleston, S.C., Police Officer Michael Slager gunned down Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man, on April 4, 2015, and lied about the incident. A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment, on top of state murder charges, thanks to a cell phone video recorded by a bystander.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and U. S. Attorney Bill Nettles of the District of South Carolina announced Wednesday the indictment charges are for a federal civil rights offense, using a firearm during the commission of the civil rights offense and obstruction of justice. The charges are not classified as hate crimes.
The indictment also claims Slager used excessive force and killed Scott without legal justification. In addition, he was charged with obstruction of justice for lying to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators.
“Slager intentionally misled investigators by claiming Scott was coming toward him with a Taser at the time that Slager fired his weapon, when in truth, Scott was running away,” according to the Department of Justice’s statement.
Scott was pulled over by Slager for having a broken taillight. A bystander recorded video footage, which shows Scott fleeing before Slager draws his weapon.
(The video contains graphic violence and language.)
Slager can be seen in a brief scuffle with Scott, who then flees with what appears to be a stun gun’s trailing wires winding out behind him. It appears the stun gun itself falls to the ground and the officer draws his weapon. Scott is at a significant distance when Slager fires eight shots, hitting the unarmed 50-year-old with several bullets.
After the officer checks Scott on the ground, he tells him, “Put your hands behind your back.” Scott does not respond and Slager places the victim’s hands behind his back, walks over to the original scene of their encounter and returns with an object that he places near Scott’s body.
In April, the city of North Charleston reached a $6.5 million settlement with Scott’s family.A South Carolina jury indicted Slager on murder charges in June 2015, for which he may serve a possible sentence of 30 years to life.
If convicted of the federal grand jury’s indictment, Slager faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the civil rights violation, as well as a potential $250,000 fine.Slager pleaded not guilty to the federal charges as well as the murder charge.
“I’m sad because my son is gone,” said Scott’s mother, Judy, in a press conference following Slager’s arraignment on Wednesday. “I’ll never see him again. But I pray that other mothers don’t haveto go through what I’ve been going through. I miss him very, very much. He was never a violent person. He was a very lovable child. Loved his parents. Loved his family. Loved his children. But I thank God to see what has happened here today. I thank God for justice and I claim it, and I stand on the word that justice will prevail.”