The former South Carolina police officer who fatally shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed, 50-year-old black man, last year is now facing federal civil rights charges.
Michael Slager, a 34-year-old white man, was indicted by a federal grand jury of three charges, including obstruction of justice and violating constitutionally protected civil rights, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. One of the charges specifically accuses Scott of using his position as a police officer to violate Scott's civil rights.
Slager was caught on video fatally shooting Scott in the back five times as he ran away before hand-cuffing him. In official statements, Slager claimed Scott had taken his Taser, causing the officer to feel threatened and to use deadly force. His claims were investigated but were not corroborated by the available evidence. Slager was fired from his position with the North Charleston Police Department and arrested on murder charges in April 2015. Slager is currently free as he awaits trial for the murder charges, scheduled for October.
The Post and Courier further reported that Slager was released on a state bail of $500,000 and be monitored with a GPS device and be stripped of his passport. If found guilty, Slager could be sentenced to a lifetime in prison.
In a statement published Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said:
The indictment alleges that Michael Slager, while acting as an NCPD Officer, used excessive force when he shot and killed Walter Scott without legal justification. Slager was also charged with obstruction of justice for making false statements to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigators with the intent to impede the investigation into the shooting. The indictment alleges that Slager intentionally misled SLED investigators by claiming that Scott was coming toward him with a taser at the time that Slager fired his weapon, when in truth, Scott was running away.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Slager faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the civil rights violation, as well as a potential $250,000 fine.
Chris Stewart, an attorney representing Scott's family, told the Post and Courier: "This is history. It could be a turning point in history that the federal government is no longer going to sit on the sidelines. They’re going to make police officers face federal justice."
The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately reply to Complex's request for comment.