Ex-Police Officer Who Killed Black Motorist During Traffic Stop Appeals Conviction to Supreme Court
A former North Charleston, South Carolina police officer who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for killing a black motorist who fled a traffic stop four years ago, has appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Michael Slager pleaded guilty in May 2017 to a federal civil rights violation for using excessive force when he shot a fleeing Walter Scott multiple times in the back as the motorist ran away from him in a small community park.
Slager’s plea was part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop a separate state murder charge. His initial state murder trial, in 2016, ended in a mistrial.
In December 2017, U.S. District Judge David Norton sentenced the former police officer to 20 years in prison. The sentence was upheld by the Fourth Circuit in January 2019, and the appeals court denied Slager a rehearing a month later.
In a petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on April 29, Slager’s defense argued the former officer was denied his due process rights when he was sentenced for second-degree murder instead of voluntary manslaughter.
The Slager case made national headlines coming at a time when several black men were killed in a series of controversial officer-involved shootings.
Immediately after the April 4, 2015 incident, Slager claimed he pulled Scott over for a broken tail light and that the two had a physical altercation in a nearby park. Slager said during the fight Scott got hold of his Taser, and that he only fired on the motorist because he feared for his life.
The dashcam video shot from officer’s vehicle only showed Scott exiting his vehicle and running away.
Days later, however, a cell phone video shot by a passerby, Feidin Santana, contradicted a critical element of Slager’s story. The video captured by Santana showed Slager and Scott struggling, as the officer claimed, but it then shows Scott again taking off on foot.
In its most chilling sequence, Slager is seen firing eight shots at Scott, who was by then several feet away. Five of the shots hit the fleeing man in the back.
The shooting and the video both bound the community together and touched a raw nerve.
Then, two months after the killing of Walter Scott, a young white Supremacist, Dylann Roof, walked into a bible study class at the historically black Emanuel AME Church and gunned down nine parishioners.
Both the Slager and Roof cases were heard at the federal courthouse in Charleston, one trial seeming to begin the moment another ended. While Slager was sentenced to prison, Roof was ultimately sentenced to death and is currently awaiting his execution.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Slager argues the district court judge “clearly erred” when it fully credited Santana’s testimony without considering the young man’s distance from events as they unfolded.
Slager’s attorneys insist that at least some of Santana’s testimony was purely speculative in nature, and that in at least one case, was “concededly erroneous.”
The petition also says the court erred in discounting Slager’s testimony on the grounds that his account of the shooting had “evolved” over time. The ex-officer maintains that in all of his legal proceedings, his account stayed the same.
Lastly, Slager’s attorneys contend the court erred in discounting the findings of three expert witnesses who concluded the altercation between Slager and Scott was more violent than it appeared in the Santana video.
At trial, Slager’s attorneys contended the two men wrestled on the ground for a time, and that Santana didn’t arrive on the scene until they’d both gotten back to their feet. The expert witnesses corroborated that account.
Slager is currently incarcerated in federal prison in Colorado and is expected to be released in 2034.
The Supreme Court has not indicated if and when it will consider hearing the case.
In The News
In The News
MINNEAPOLIS — Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughter. Freeman said this moved with extraordinary speed, that the investigation is continuing into other three officers, Freeman says. He said they have never charged a... Read More
TULSA, Okla. — Jim Goodwin ran his thumb over the screen of his iPhone, reading a rough draft of a newspaper editorial. In 300 words, the author recounted one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history and offered a stark suggestion to Tulsa... Read More
SINGAPORE — Life was already hardscrabble for the seven river otters known as the Zouk family. Prime land next to Singapore’s sparkling waterways brimming with fish had been seized by other clans, forcing the hapless group to wander the city-state each day in search of food... Read More
As the world’s courthouses prepare to reopen, many are installing plexiglass “sneeze barriers” and instituting face-mask requirements for litigants and court staff. But one especially vexing problem remains: how to bring back the jury and where to put them. Consider the plight of Minnesota’s Hennepin County,... Read More
AUSTIN, Texas — It took three weeks, but Lawrence and Arlene Maze finally persuaded their younger son, Gregory, of Los Angeles, to get on a flight home to Austin. “He basically shut his business down to come here and has to restart his business when it’s... Read More
WASHINGTON - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday released the updated plan for conducting congressional business into the summer. The plan and calendar emailed members states that the focus for June will be on having the House committees hold hearings and mark up and report... Read More