The former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, following a traffic stop was sentenced Thursday to 20 years behind bars in a federal case stemming from the fatal encounter.
Michael Slager, who had been an officer with the North Charleston police, was charged with murder in state court and indicted on federal civil rights charges after the shooting in 2015. In graphic video footage of the shooting recorded by a bystander, Scott could be seen running from Slager as the officer fired a barrage of bullets into his back.
Slager’s murder trial ended with a deadlocked jury last year, and prosecutors had vowed to retry him in state court. But earlier this year, the 36-year-old former officer, who had said he feared for his life when he shot Scott, pleaded guilty to a single federal civil rights charge as part of a plea deal that resolved both cases.
Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison after U.S. District Judge David Norton determined that the former officer’s shooting of Scott constituted second-degree murder and that his actions after constituted obstruction of justice, according to the Justice Department.
Under the terms of the plea agreement announced in May, Slager pleaded guilty to one count of violating Scott’s rights under color of law, and prosecutors said they would push for a judge to apply sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. Slager could have faced a life sentence, but prosecutors had said as part of the plea deal that they would recommend that his sentence be reduced due to his “acceptance of responsibility,” as long as he did not later seek to minimize that acceptance.
In a sentencing memorandum filed last month, prosecutors argued that Slager did not appear to be taking full responsibility and that, as a result, they did not feel he should receive a sentence less severe than life imprisonment.
Attorneys for Slager argued against that in their own filing, writing that the former officer accepted responsibility and “has said nothing that contradicts the factual basis for the offense contained in the plea agreement.” They argued that federal prosecutors were focused only on “their unreasonable goal to have Slager spend the remainder of his life in prison.”
Slager’s attorney did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment about the sentencing.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mark Berman