Nearly five months after his last court case ended in a mistrial, former North Charleston Police Department officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty yesterday (May 2) to violating Walter Scott‘s civil rights when he killed the unarmed Black motorist during a 2015 traffic stop.
The Post and Courier reported yesterday that Slager, who is White, entered a guilty plea for the charge of deprivation of rights under color of law a week before the scheduled start of his federal trial. Per the plea agreement, federal prosecutors will drop the two remaining counts, obstruction of justice and using a firearm in a violent crime. And state prosecutors will drop an outstanding murder charge.
South Carolina’s Ninth Circuit solicitor Scarlett Wilson originally pledged to retry Slager on murder and manslaughter charges after the December mistrial; she praised the Department of Justice’s successful prosecution in a statement:
Today, in working with the Department, we found justice in a resolution that vindicates the State’s interests by holding former police officer Michael Slager accountable for shooting Mr. Scott (in the back) when Slager knew it was wrong and illegal; as well as justice in a resolution that recognizes the egregious violation of Mr. Scott’s civil rights.
Slager’s plea marked the first time he accepted responsibility for unnecessarily using deadly force against Scott, reversing his previous self-defense argument. "The defendant used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances," reads the plea. "The defendant acknowledges that his actions were done willfully, that is he acted voluntarily and intentionally and with specific intent to do something that the law forbids."
U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina judge David C. Norton did not announce a sentencing date at yesterday’s hearing. Slager’s crime carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Scott’s death made national headlines and prompted protests after bystander video emerged showing Slager shooting Scott as he ran away. Scott initially fled during a traffic stop; Slager shot him after an unsuccessful attempt to bring him down with a Taser.
Members of Scott’s family praised the outcome during a post-hearing press conference captured by The Post and Courier in the video above. "We got it done, we got justice," said Walter’s brother Anthony Scott. "This is not just a victory for my family. This is a victory for Charleston, North Charleston, South Carolina, the United States and the world."