Following a brief embrace with his longtime defense attorney Andy Savage, Michael Slager was handcuffed and led out of a Charleston courthouse after pleading guilty to a federal civil rights charge for the shooting of Walter Scott.
Ending more than two years of legal efforts to convict the former North Charleston officer, Slager admitted to using excessive force to deprive Scott of his rights under the color of law. After previously testifying that he feared for his life following a brief struggle with Scott, Slager dropped his claims regarding the events that led to him shooting Scott in the back five times after Scott fled from a traffic stop.
As the terms of the plea were explained in the courtroom, Slager’s wife kept her eyes down. She looked up only at the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, as she stood and watched her husband be taken into custody.
In exchange for his plea, state murder charges were dropped against Slager, avoiding an upcoming retrial scheduled for later this year in state court. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, lead prosecutor in Slager’s state case, applauded the strength and compassion displayed by the Scott family, saying she had complete faith that a fair and just sentence will be handed down for Michael Slager.
“Today, in working with the [Justice] 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,” said Wilson in a public statement. “Now that Slager has pleaded guilty to a willful violation, admitted the facts we set out to prove, and waived the right to appeal his conviction, a successive prosecution by the state is not necessary.”
While U.S. District Judge David Norton accepted Slager’s guilty plea, the former officer’s sentence will be determined by the judge at a later date following the completion of a presentencing report. The maximum penalty for the civil rights violation committed by Slager is life in prison. Anthony Scott, Walter Scott’s brother, spoke outside of the courtroom after Tuesday’s hearing, calling for Slager to spend the rest of his life in prison and thanking those who worked on the case.
“This is not just a victory for my family. It’s a victory for Charleston, North Charleston, South Carolina, the United States, and the world,” said Anthony Scott.
Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Scott family, called Slager’s guilty plea a rare occurrence, citing other highly publicized cases of police officers using deadly force against African Americans.
“Today is rare. The Garners, the Blands, the Rice family — they didn’t get justice like we got here today,” Stewart stated.
Scott’s mother, Judy Scott, wiped away tears as the details of Slager’s crime and the events of her son’s death were read aloud to the court. While her surviving sons had called for Slager to spend the remainder of his life in prison, Judy Scott said that she can finally forgive Slager for his crime, adding that no amount of time behind bars can bring back her son.
“Today is a day of victory for Walter,” Judy Scott said following the hearing. “We got justice.”