The former South Carolina police officer accused of shooting an unarmed black man in the back multiple times has pleaded guilty in federal court.
Slager, 35, admitted to a felony civil rights violation in a deal that will lead to two other federal charges being dropped against him, the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release.
The plea deal, which you can read here, also calls for the state to drop murder charges against Slager, bringing an end to the legal battle against the ex-officer more than two years after Scott was shot, CNN reports.
Slager is expected to appear in court Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in Charleston, federal court records show. Sentencing will be held at a later date.
“We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss,” Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage, told the Post and Courier.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Slager Will Admit to Knowingly Using ‘Objectively Unreasonable’ Force by Shooting Walter Scott in the Back 5 Times
Michael Slager fatally shot Walter Lamer Scott on April 4, 2015, following a traffic stop for a broken tail light. Scott jumped out of his car and ran from the scene. Slager chased him and the two struggled, before Scott broke free.
The Charleston Post and Courier reported that Scott was shot five times in the back.
Slager claimed that he thought Scott had taken his Taser from him and he fired because he felt threatened.
According to the plea agreement, Slager admitted to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law. The former officer admitted to using “deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.” The agreement says Slager “acknowledges that his actions were done willfully, that he acted voluntarily and intentionally and with specific intent to do something that the law forbids.”
You can read the full plea agreement below:
The plea deal also calls for two other federal charges to be dropped. He had been additionally charged with discharging using, carrying and discharging firearm during a felony and using intimidation or force against a witness by engaging in “misleading conduct toward another person with the intent to hinder, delay and prevent the communication to a federal law offense.”
Slager was accused of “knowingly and intentionally” misleading investigators in statements he gave after the shooting, including by “falsely stating that he fired his weapon at Scott while Scott was coming forward at him with a Taser.”
According to prosecutors, “in truth and in fact, as defendant Michael Slager then well knew, he repeatedly fired his weapon at Scott when Scott was running away from him.”
2. His Murder Trial in State Court Ended in a Mistrial & His Federal Trial Was Set to Begin This Month
Slager went on trial for murder in South Carolina state court last year. The jury could not reach a decision on the charges, which also included manslaughter, and a judge declared a mistrial in December, ABC News reported.
A re-trial in that case was set for August after the conclusion of the federal trial, but the plea agreement calls for all state charges to be dismissed.
Slager’s federal trial was expected to begin later this month, with jury selection scheduled for May 9, the Post and Courier reports.
He was expected to appear in federal court on May 2 for a pre-trial hearing, where evidence could be presented by both sides before a judge, but that hearing was changed to allow him to enter a guilty plea.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement after the plea was entered:
The Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force. Such failures of duty not only harm the individual victims of these crimes; they harm our country, by eroding trust in law enforcement and undermining the good work of the vast majority of honorable and honest police officers. As our Department works to support the courageous and professional law enforcement personnel who risk their lives every day to protect us, we will also ensure that police officers who abuse their sacred trust are made to answer for their misconduct.
“Our hearts are with the Scott family today. They have persevered in their quest for justice for their loved one, and I hope that today brings them a measure of closure,” U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Beth Drake said in a statement. “I also want to thank both Solicitor Wilson of the Ninth Judicial Circuit and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel for their efforts to secure justice in this matter.”
South Carolina Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said in a statement, “This conviction is prime example of the strong results we can get when federal and state authorities work together. We are grateful for the Department of Justice for their role in obtaining justice for the Scotts with this conviction and in moving our community forward through their hard work.”
3. He Could Be Sentenced to Life in Prison, but Prosecutors Agreed in the Deal to Argue for Less Than the Maximum Sentence
Michael Slager could face up to life in prison on the federal charge, but could also be sentenced to no prison time, the Post and Courier reports.
According to the plea deal obtained by CNN, the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina will argue for less than the maximum sentence. Prosecutors agreed to use sentencing guidelines for federal second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge David C. Norton will make a final decision on sentencing and will not be bound by the plea agreement.
In federal court, the judge has discretion to sentence a defendant outside of the plea agreement, within guidelines set by federal law. The sentencing will occur at a later date following a pre-sentencing report and recommendations on a potential sentence from prosecutors and the defense.
4. Slager, Who Was an Officer for 5 Years Before He Was Fired After the Shooting, Has Been Free on Bail Since January 2016
Slager was fired and arrested three days after video of the shooting emerged in April 2015. North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Diggers said he was “sickened” by what he saw on the video.
The ex-officer was held in jail in solitary confinement until December 2016, when he was released on bail. Slager was taken into federal custody after entering the guilty plea.
Slager worked for the North Charleston Police Department for five years, according to the Post and Courier.
He previously served in the Coast Guard. Slager’s personnel record, which was obtained by the Post and Courier through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that Slager was part of a boarding team while serving in Florida with the Coast Guard.
Slager’s personnel file, published online by Buzzfeed, sheds light on the former officer’s past. He went to Lenape High School in Medford, New Jersey and worked as a waiter at a restaurant there before joining the Coast Guard in 2003. He last worked for the Coast Guard in Port Canaveral, Florida where he also did mechanical and engineering work and “enforced federal laws + treaties, port security,” he said in his job application.
He applied for a job with the North Charleston Police in January 2009 on the recommendation of another North Charleston officer.
Slager was accused of excessive force in 2013 when a man said Slager shot him with a Taser for no reason, but an internal investigation cleared Slager of wrongdoing, according to the Post and Courier’s review of Slager’s personnel file.
Slager, who lives 6 miles from North Charleston in the city of Hanahan, South Carolina, is married. His wife was eight months pregnant at the time of his arrest. He also has two stepchildren.
5. Scott’s Brother Says the ‘Healing’ Starts With the Guilty Plea, Which He Called a ‘Victory’
Walter Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott, told reporters the family is “grateful” that they have received justice.
“For me and my family, the healing starts today,” Anthony Scott said, calling the plea a “victory” for North Charleston, South Carolina, the United States and the world.
Scott’s mother, Judy, said, “I forgive Michael Slager because the forgiver is in me. That he admitted he did it was enough years for me.”
Scott was a father of four. Like Slager, Scott served in the Coast Guard, for four years in the 1980s, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“He has four children; he doesn’t have some type of big violent past or arrest record,” Chris Stewart, an attorney for the family, told the New York Times in April 2015. “He had a job; he was engaged. He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for back child support.”
His family settled a civil lawsuit with the city of North Charleston in October 2015 for $6.5 million, according to the New York Times.
Anthony Scott, Walter’s brother, told the Times the settlement will help his brother’s four children.
“They’ll be taken care of financially for the rest of their life,” he said. “And that’s very important.”