Grace Beahm/Post & Courier
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager stands alongside attorneys for the defense and prosecution in a Charleston courtroom on Nov. 3, 2016
Allegations that state investigators mislead Michael Slager and his former attorney in the days following the shooting of Walter Scott were the focus of a federal hearing Friday.
Attorney David Aylor, who briefly represented Slager in 2015, took the stand to claim that SLED agents lied to him regarding the existence of video of the former North Charleston officer opening fire on Scott following a routine traffic stop. Slager’s current defense team is now asking that statements made by the former officer will be declared off limits in his upcoming federal trial on the grounds that he and his former attorney were not informed about the existence of the video when he spoke to investigators. Slager currently awaits trial for allegedly lying to investigators and federal civil rights violations for the April 4, 2015, shooting death of Walter Scott.
Immediately following Scott’s death, Slager contacted the Police Benevolent Association which paired the officer with local criminal defense attorney David Aylor. While Slager said his memory of the struggle with Scott was foggy, he ultimately told investigators that Scott seized his Taser and was attempting to use it against him. By the time Slager and his former attorney were able to meet with SLED agents working on the case, eyewitness footage contradicting portions of Slager’s account of the shooting had already been handed over to investigators. Aylor claims that he questioned lead investigator Angela Peterson about the possible existence of video evidence or eyewitnesses before advising Slager to provide a statement.
“What she did was lie to me. She lied straight to my face,” Aylor said in court Friday, taking an aggressive tone as he was questioned by prosecutors. “It’s not about keeping it from me ... It’s about misleading me.”
Just hours after his initial meeting with SLED agents on April 7, 2015, Aylor was contacted by Peterson, who informed him that a video of the shooting had emerged. Returning to his office to meet with Slager and Peterson, Aylor said he received a news alert on his phone notifying him that the video had been released to news outlets. After watching the video that shows Slager open fire on Scott as he fled — the first shot ringing out with Scott approximately 17 feet away — Aylor ended the meeting and told agents that Slager would provide no further statements.
It was soon after this meeting that Slager was taken into custody and Aylor stepped down as his attorney. When asked if the revelation of the video and the discrepancies in Slager’s account of the shooting were what caused Aylor to remove himself from the case, the attorney responded that multiple factors contributed to his decision.
“It’s like any relationship. It’s complicated,” Aylor said.
Attorneys for the United States told the court that Aylor had rebuffed their early attempts to discuss the meeting between Slager and SLED agents. While Aylor attested in court Friday that he was certain that he questioned Peterson regarding any video evidence before advising Slager to speak with investigators, the attorney was not confident in his ability to recall in detail what exactly was said during the almost two-hour meeting. When asked if he encountered any public or professional blowback for his handling of the Slager case, Aylor assured prosecutors that he is no stranger to criticism from other attorneys “because they are jealous.”
While U.S. District Judge David Norton has yet to decide if Slager’s comments to SLED will be up for discussion when his federal trial begins on May 15, Norton did settle a handful of pending matters related to the trial.
The defense’s argument that dueling state and federal prosecutions violated Slager’s protection against double jeopardy was dismissed by Norton who told the defense “If you want to change the law, you’re going to have to get someone else to do it for you.”
Lead defense attorney Andy Savage continued his call for more details on what accommodations and considerations were given by state prosecutors to shooting eyewitness Feidin Santana. Savage contends that Santana provided false statements regarding travel expenses and reimbursements while testify during Slager’s state murder trial that ended with a hung jury.
“Santana is lying about being this wonderful person who was donating his time and money,” Savage told the court.
Prosecutors agreed to provide Norton with the full schedule of state reimbursements given to witnesses and allow the judge to determine what, if any payments may be material to the defense’s case. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who is serving as lead prosecutor in Slager’s upcoming state retrial, stood by Santana’s testimony presented in court last fall.