Captured on cellphone video fatally shooting an unarmed man in the back, former North Charleston Patrolman Michael Slager was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to violating the civil rights of deceased motorist Walter Scott. In addition to shooting the unarmed man in the back, the former South Carolina police officer also appeared to plant evidence next to the body in order to justify the police shooting.
On April 4, 2015, Slager pulled over Scott for driving with a broken brake light. 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.
As Slager pursued the 50-year-old, Scott fell to the ground after Slager fired his Taser at him. After Scott managed to get up, he continued to flee from the police officer when Slager fired eight rounds, with five bullets hitting Scott from behind.
While a bystander named Feidin Santana continued filming, Slager cuffed Scott’s hands behind his back before retrieving a 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. 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.
On May 2, 2017, 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 were dismissed while state prosecutors agreed to drop the pending murder charge against him.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge David Norton sentenced Slager to 20 years in federal prison. Initially facing a possible life sentence, Slager took responsibility for his actions and apologized to Scott’s family.
“Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I’m responsible for that,” Slager stated in court. “I’m standing here before you taking responsibility for my actions.”
“We are hurt,” Walter’s brother, Anthony Scott, told CNN, “and we do have some type of passion for the Slager family, in that they have to suffer as well. And we do forgive Michael Slager for what he did. But yes, we did want justice for my brother, and we feel that we have gotten a sense of justice.”
“Law enforcement officers have the noble calling to serve and protect,” stated Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Officers who violate anyone’s rights also violate their oaths of honor, and they tarnish the names of the vast majority of officers, who do incredible work. Those who enforce our laws must also abide by them – and this Department of Justice will hold accountable anyone who violates the civil rights of our fellow Americans. On behalf of the Department of Justice, I want to offer my condolences to the Scott family and loved ones.”
After the sentencing, another one of Walter’s brothers, Rodney Scott, told reporters that Scott “apologized to the family, He called each and every last one of our names in court today and apologized. So who are we not to forgive?”