The last time we checked in on former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager he had somehow wound up with a hung jury in his trial for the killing of Walter Scott. That somewhat jaw dropping result left the case in limbo, with Slager still facing both a federal civil rights trial and a promise from the state that they would attempt to prosecute him again. As of today all that has changed.
It was announced this morning that Slager will plead guilty in the federal case and as part of the arrangement South Carolina has agreed not to pursue a second murder trial against him. (NBC News)
A white former South Carolina police officer will plead guilty Tuesday in a federal civil rights case over the fatal shooting of unarmed black motorist Walter Scott, two attorneys close to the case told NBC News.
The state of South Carolina, meanwhile, will drop a pending murder charge against Michael Slager, who was fired after cellphone footage of Scott’s killing went viral. Slager’s first murder trial ended last December in a hung jury…
That means that if this plea goes as proposed, Slager’s guilty plea on the remaining federal charges would be the end of all the criminal cases, and the state would not seek to try him again.
CNN provides some of the missing details as to precisely what Slager is pleading guilty to and what sort of sentence he may receive. You can read a copy of the actual plea agreement here and it specifies that he is pleading guilty to one count of Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, specifically Excessive Use of Force resulting in bodily injury or death.
The possible sentence can cover quite a wide range since it can carry a term of “up to” life in prison, but there is no federal mandatory minimum. It carries a possible fine of “up to” $250,000 but, again, has no mandatory minimum. It also includes supervised release (probation) for five years and a Special Assessment of $100. In other words, they have reached an agreement where the judge will hand down anything from life in jail and a quarter million dollar fine to zero jail time, five years probation and one hundred bucks out of his pocket. I get the feeling that it’s going to be lighter than a lot of people would like, otherwise he’d probably have taken his chances before a jury. After all, he already managed to get one hung jury so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that his legal team was arguing that it might happen again.
Unfortunately, too light of a sentence is only going to add to the racial unrest around the country and it would further damage the argument that not only are the vast majority of cops really the good guys, but that we can effectively punish those who turn out to be bad apples. And this was a case of a seriously bad apple in my opinion. I’ve watched that video too many times now (and I’m not going to include it here yet again) and the scene was sickening. As regular readers know I have traditionally taken the side of any law enforcement officers who wind up in lethal force encounters when there’s at least a credible case to be made saying that they really didn’t have any other choice under the circumstances. That wasn’t the situation on the day Walter Scott died. Slager was an estimated 17 feet away from Scott when he shot him repeatedly in the back and he then moved around evidence at the crime scene in what appeared to be an obvious attempt to cover his tracks. As far as I’m concerned, he flat out murdered that man as he was slowly jogging away from him.
But this may not turn out to be the worst case scenario. If Slager has agreed to anything in the range of twenty years in prison then Scott’s family and their community might feel that justice has at least been served to a reasonable degree.