The former South Carolina police officer charged with murder for fatally shooting an unarmed motorist in the back last April was released on bail Monday night.
Michael Slager, 35, theformer North Charleston police officer who was caught on video shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott eight times in the back as he ran away then returning to Scott’s body to plant a taser he alleged Scott used to attack him was released on $500,000 bond and will remain under house arrest until his trial, which is set to begin Oct. 31.
Scott was pulled over by Slager on April 4 for having a broken tail light. Video from Slager’s dash-cam shows Scott running away from his vehicle. A bystander’s cell phone video captured the remainder of the incident.
Prosecutors said Scott was trying to get away from Slager, not attack him. In addition to murder, prosecutors also accused Slager of tampering with evidence by retrieving his stun gun from where it had fallen and placing it near Scott’s body to fit the narrative that Scott had taken his taser.
Scott’s family has said they believe Scott ran away from the traffic stop because at the time he was $17,000 behind in child support payments, resulting in a warrant for his arrest.
Slager faces 30 years to life without parole if convicted of murder. While he is out on bail, he will have to remain at an undisclosed location in South Carolina and must have no contact with Scott’s family.
Slager had been held in solitary confinement at the Charleston County Detention Center since his arrest last April, and wasdenied a previous request for bail in September. At that time, Circuit Judge Clifton Newman refused to set bond, saying that Slager posed a threat to the community.
However, Slager’s defense attorney filed a motion for a speedy trial and a renewed request for bail due in part to the fact that prosecutor Scarlett Wilson is also prosecuting Dylann Roof, the white suspect in the killings of nine Black parishioners at a Charleston church, and a state Supreme Court order prevents her from trying other cases before that one. That case is expected to go to trial in July.
As a result, Judge Newman agreed with the defense’s motion for a speedy trial and a renewed request for bail, setting the $500,000 surety bond. Slager’s attorney also said his client has health problems.
During the hearing, according to The Associated Press, the prosecutor said there had been no change in circumstances to warrant the renewed request for bond. “We believe the defendant remains, as the court found, a danger to the community and a flight risk,” Wilson said.
Scott’s father also addressed the judge, saying he often goes to the cemetery to visit his son’s grave. “If we let him out, he’s going to go home to see his wife and children. All I can look at is a pot of flowers,” Scott said.
Before issuing his ruling, Newman said, “These are difficult issues. These are excruciating issues for the court to deal with.”
“The family is not happy about Mr. Slager getting bond,” family attorneyJustin Bamberg told The Associated Press after the hearing. “This is just another step in the criminal justice process, and the family believes at the end of the day that justice will prevail.”
In October, the city of North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott’s family.