A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a white former North Charleston police officer to 20 years in prison for the 2015 killing of an unarmed African American man who was running away when shot and killed.
Judge David Norton announced his decision about the sentence of former officer Michael Slager, 36, on the fourth day of a sentencing hearing.
Earlier Thursday, Norton said he would consider the 2015 killing of unarmed Walter Scott by the North Charleston police officer to be a second-degree murder, not the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter.
Norton announced his finding about the gravity of the killing of Scott, an African-American who was running away from Slager when the police officer fired at him eight times.
Norton also said he found Scott did not sufficiently provoke Slager to justify shooting him. And, Norton said, Slager obstructed justice by his inaccurate statements to law enforcement after the shooting.
Norton had indicated he would sentence the 36-year-old Slager to between 235 months and 293 months in prison, or from nearly 20 years to more than 24 years.
“Sentencing is the worst part of the best job in the world,” Norton said before announcing his decision. “Today, no matter what sentence I give, neither the Scott family nor the Slager family will think it is right.”
Slager theoretically could have received a life sentence, but most legal observers had expected a sentence in the 12-to 15-year range if Norton had categorized the crime as voluntary manslaughter.
Slager’s sentencing brings to an end one of the most notorious criminal cases in modern South Carolina history, a case that attracted worldwide attention after a bystander’s video of Scott’s fatal shooting went viral on the Internet.
The daylight shooting, on April 4, 2015, occurred at a time of rising national consciousness of white officers involved in high-profile fatal shootings of African-American suspects. Some shootings were justified; some were not.
The Scott shooting resulted in increased training for S.C. law enforcement officers and more use of body cameras by police.
The video, shot by an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was passing by the vacant lot where the shooting took place, showed Slager taking aim and firing eight shots at Scott, 50, as he fled. Five of the shots hit the fleeing Scott in the backside.
Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, contended during the hearing that Scott had resisted arrest and posed a threat to the officer in the seconds before the shooting. However, Norton gave greater weight to prosecution evidence showing Slager had lied about crucial facts and tried to cover up aspects of the shooting so Scott appeared at fault.
Had there been no video, prosecutors said, it is likely Slager would not have been prosecuted.
The federal crime for which Slager was sentenced is “deprivation of rights under color of law,” which means basically that an officer has abused his authority and violated someone’s rights. In this case, the abuse was the killing of Scott.
Slager pleaded guilty to the charge earlier this year. In return, state murder charges were dropped. In late 2016, when Slager was tried on state murder charges, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
On April 4, 2015, Slager stopped the car Scott was driving in North Charleston for a broken rear brake light. Scott jumped out of the car and ran. Slager chased him for 200 yards and, then, the two men scuffled. When Scott broke away and started to run away, Slager fired at him.
© 2017 The State (Columbia, S.C.)
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