Courtesy of Charleston County
Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager appeared in a Charleston court Wednesday to answer to a three-count federal indictment for the shooting of Walter Scott. Clean-shaven and dressed in a suit with his feet and hands shackled, Slager pled not guilty to charges of deprivation of rights under the color of law, use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and obstruction of justice. Federal attorneys will not pursue the death penalty, but Slager faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Slager will be represented by attorneys Andy Savage and Shaun Kent for the federal trial. Savage is also serving as the lead attorney for the defense in Slager’s state trial, which is scheduled for Oct. 31. In a statement released shortly after Wednesday’s hearing, Savage called the indictment “extreme” and said that his client was “carrying the burden of many past cases that were handled differently.” A recent investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
found that federal prosecutors only pursued charges in 4 percent of cases where law enforcement officers faced allegations of civil rights violations between 1995 and 2015.
According to the indictment, prosecutors allege that Slager knowingly and intentionally misled SLED officials tasked with investigating the death of Walter Scott last April. U.S. attorneys claim that the former officer told SLED agents that he fired his weapon at Scott while Scott was rushing toward him with a Taser. An eyewitness video of the shooting shows Slager repeatedly fire his weapon at Scott as he attempted to flee the officer.
During a state bond hearing in early January, Savage told a judge that the “video that the state has shown the public is incomplete. At this moment, the state has their experts analyzing the whole video, which shows what took place in the minutes between the traffic stop and the shooting. This portion of the video is a much different perspective as to what happened.”
Slager has been on house arrest since the beginning of the year after being released from police custody on a $500,000 bond. Citing the length of defendant’s incarceration prior to his court date, Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, who oversaw the state hearing, ruled that Slager was entitled to the reconsideration of release before his trial on state charges. No additional bond was requested as a result of the federal indictment, but Slager will be required to hand over his passport and submit to electronic monitoring to ensure that he does not leave his home unless permitted by the court. Attorneys stated in court Wednesday that there have been no compliance issues since Slager’s release earlier this year.
The federal indictment was bittersweet news to the family of Walter Scott, who appeared in court Wednesday to address the judge and express their gratitude for the Department of Justice.
“I thank God that my son was the one that was used to pull the cover off of all the violence and the cover-ups and all that has been going on. I’m happy for that, but I’m sad because my son is gone,” said Judy Scott, Walter’s mother, following the hearing. “I’ll never see him again, but I pray that other mothers don’t have to go through what I’ve been going through.”