By Barney Blakeney
Michael Slager, the North Charleston police officer charged with violating the civil rights of Walter Scott, the unarmed man he killed two years ago, pled guilty to the federal charges against him Tuesday. Slager’s federal trial was set to begin later this month. The plea bargain reached also impacts his retrial on state charges of murder in the incident.
He will not be retried after last year’s mistrial was declared in the state case against him. Slager faces a maximum life sentence on the federal charge. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.
In a statement released Tuesday Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlet Wilson said, “Today, in working with the Department, we found justice in a resolution that vindicates the State’s interests by holding former police officer Michael Slager accountable for shooting Mr. Scott (in the back) when Slager knew it was wrong and illegal; as well as justice in a resolution that recognizes the egregious violation of Mr. Scott’s civil rights. Now that Slager has pleaded guilty to a willful violation, admitted the facts we set out to prove and waived the right to appeal his conviction, a successive prosecution by the State is not necessary.”
According to Wilson and others, Scott’s family members agree with the plea arrangement. But despite Slager’s admission of guilt, local civil rights leaders say the sentence Slager receives ultimately will determine if justice has been served.
Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said a sentence that doesn’t include jail time is unacceptable. Still, a prison sentence sends the message that officers can act as judge, jury and executioner in such incidents and ultimately only face jail time. Slager who is white stopped Scott who is Black, for a traffic violation that escalated into a struggle. Slager shot Scott in the back as Scott ran from that struggle.
“If it wasn’t for the traffic stop being involved, that incident was as if Slager was just shooting a rabbit of something. In my mind, jail time gives officers a pass,” Scott said. About the discretion in sentencing, she said, “Let’s see what happens.’
National Action Network S.C. State Coordinator Elder James Johnson had similar sentiments. “We have to wait until the sentencing. That’s the real story,” he said.
Slager’s plea marks the first time in memory a white police office has been convicted in the shooting death of a Black man, Johnson noted. “While this is not a complete victory, I’m satisfied knowing Slager will get some time for killing Scott,” he said.
North Charleston NAACP President Ed Bryant felt differently. He said, “I’m not satisfied and I won’t be satisfied until North Charleston Police Department has reform that teaches its officers not to shoot unarmed Black men. I don’t trust the judicial system. I think Michael Slager should get the same sentence he gave Walter Scott – life.”