A White former South Carolina police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed Black motorist who was running away has been indicted on federal charges including depriving the victim of his civil rights.
An indictment unsealed Wednesday also charges Ex-North Charleston, S.C., cop Michael Slager, 34, with obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a weapon during the commission of a crime. It says Slager used his authority as a police officer when he shot at Walter Scott eight times, striking him five, as he ran from a traffic stop in April 2015, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
“This is history,” Chris Stewart, a Scott family attorney, said Wednesday. “It could be a turning point in history that the federal government is no longer going to sit on the sidelines. They’re going to make police officers face federal justice.”
Slager has been free on bail since January in the state case. He was arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court in downtown Charleston.
A bystander’s cellphone video captured images of Slager, then a North Charleston officer and the case inflamed a national debate about how Blacks are treated by White police officers.
Slager was charged with murder in state court and fired from the force. He was held in solitary confinement until January, when he was released on half a million dollars bail and put under house arrest at an undisclosed location, allowed to leave only for work, church and medical or legal appointments.
Slager is to appear before a judge in Charleston later Wednesday for an initial appearance on the federal charges. Scott’s family said they planned to meet with reporters after the hearing.
Slager’s state trial is set to begin this fall, and he faces a possible life sentence without parole. Prosecutors have asked for the trial to be moved up to August or back to May 2017 to give Solicitor Scarlett Wilson time to prepare for another trial, that of Dylann Roof who’s charged with shooting nine people to death at a Black church in Charleston last summer.
Roof’s trial is now set for January, and the state Supreme Court has issued an order protecting Wilson from trying other cases before that one.
Last fall, North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott’s family.
With reporting by the Associated Press