Former Officer Accepts Plea Agreement Ahead of Federal Trial

Michael Slager, the former North Charleston, South Carolina police officer charged in the shooting death of unarmed motorist Walter Scott, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the civil rights of Scott, 41, on May 2, 2017, more than two years after the motorist’s death.

The guilty plea in which Slager accepts responsibility for unlawfully causing the death of Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, was part of a plea agreement in which federal prosecutors agreed to drop two other charges against the former police officer and the state of South Carolina agreed to withdraw its charge of murder against the defendant.

Tuesday’s hearing before U.S. District Court Judge David Norton was originally scheduled to be another pretrial hearing ahead of a May 15 federal court date but instead turned out to be a plea hearing for Slager. The guilty plea means Slager will not have to face a jury trial for the federal charges against him, nor a retrial for the state’s murder charge.

Also as a part of the plea agreement between the prosecution and the defense is that federal prosecutors will ask that sentencing guidelines for Slager be based on those for second-degree murder, guidelines that would impose at least a 20-year prison sentence rather than first-degree murder guidelines that could require life in prison for the former law enforcement officer. No sentencing date has been set. Slager, who had been free on bond during most of the last two years, was taken into custody immediately following Tuesday’s hearing.

In recent weeks, attorneys on both sides of the aisle had been arguing back and forth about what evidence could and could not be presented at Slager’s federal trial, including the key evidence of a video of the shooting of Walter Scott who fled on foot from Slager after he had been stopped for a broken brake light on his car. The video, taken by eyewitness Feidin Santana, showed that Scott had his back to Slager and was at least 15 feet away from the officer when Slager fired, shooting Scott in the back five times.

Michael Slager is one of the few police officers who has been charged criminally for their actions while on duty. Slager, along with Ray Tensing, a former campus police officer in Cincinnati, Ohio, was charged with murder in a shooting death following a routine traffic stop. In both cases, there is video footage of the incidents; both former police officers were white; both shooing victims were black and unarmed. Tensing, who like Slager, had his first trial for murder end in a hung jury, faces a retrial later this month. Unlike Slager, Tensing faces no federal charges.

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