Caught on cellphone video fatally shooting an unarmed man in the back, a former South Carolina police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating the civil rights of deceased motorist Walter Scott. In exchange for the ex-cop’s guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the other two federal charges and the pending murder charge against him.
On the morning of April 4, 2015, North Charleston Patrolman Michael Slager noticed 50-year-old Walter “Lamar” Scott driving with a broken brake light. According to his dash cam footage, Slager pulled over Scott and requested his driver’s license. As Slager returned to his patrol car to run a check on Scott’s license, Scott waited a few moments before suddenly exiting his vehicle and fleeing on foot.
Slager chased after him and reportedly fired his Taser at Scott in an attempt to subdue him. According to an early statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor, Scott managed to take Slager’s Taser from his hands and attempted to use the weapon against the officer. Slager claimed that he felt threatened, pulled out his Glock, and fired several rounds at Scott. But video of the shooting contradicted the officer’s account.
While walking to work, a bystander named Feidin Santana witnessed the incident and recorded a video of the shooting on his cellphone. In the video, Scott appeared to slap something out of the officer’s hands before turning to flee. As Scott ran away from the officer, the prongs biting into his clothing began to stretch the wires from Slager’s Taser.
Instead of chasing after Scott, Slager drew his gun and fired eight shots at Scott. Four bullets hit Scott in the back and one struck him in the ear. Two of the shots were fatal.
As Santana continued filming, Slager cuffed Scott’s hands behind his back before retrieving the fallen item and placing it next to Scott’s body. After announcing over the radio that the suspect had taken his Taser, Slager appeared to plant evidence near Scott’s body in order to legally justify the shooting.
Three days later, Slager was fired from the department and arrested for murder. Charged with manslaughter and murder, Slager was confined to house arrest after his previous trial ended in a mistrial.
On May 10, 2016, Slager was indicted on federal charges, including deprivation of rights under color of law, using a firearm during the commission of a civil rights offense, and obstruction of justice. According to his three-count indictment, Slager made false statements to investigators when he claimed that Scott was charging toward him with his Taser as the officer opened fire.
On Tuesday afternoon, Slager pleaded guilty to one federal count of violating Scott’s civil rights by using excessive force. Due to the terms of his plea deal, the other two federal charges against Slager have been dismissed while state prosecutors agreed to drop the pending murder charge against him.
If convicted, Slager faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for violating Scott’s civil rights under color of law. According to his attorney, a sentencing date has not yet been determined.