White ex-cop gets 20 years for Wal­ter Scott slay­ing

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Meg Kin­nard

CHARLESTON, S.C. » One by one, rel­a­tives of the late Wal­ter Scott urged a judge to mete out a sig­nif­i­cant pun­ish­ment for Michael Slager, the white former po­lice of­fi­cer who fa­tally shot Scott, an un­armed black man, in the back af­ter a 2015 traf­fic stop.

Through tears, Scott’s fam­ily told Slager they felt sor­row for him and the loss his young chil­dren would feel in his ab­sence. In the end, a judge sen­tenced Slager to 20 years in prison, giv­ing the Scott fam­ily the jus­tice they had sought ever since a stranger came to them with the shock­ing video of Scott be­ing killed.

“I for­give Michael Slager. I for­give you,” Scott’s mother, Judy, said as she turned toward her son’s killer. “I pray for you, that you would re­pent and let Je­sus come in your life.”

Sit­ting just a few feet away, Slager wiped tears from his eyes and mouthed: “I’m sorry.”

The pun­ish­ment wrapped up a case that be­came a ral­ly­ing cry for the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. Slager, 36, is one of only a few po­lice of­fi­cers to go to prison for a fa­tal shoot­ing, and his sen­tence is by far the stiffest since the shoot­ings came un­der ex­tra scru­tiny in re­cent years.

At­tor­neys for the former North Charleston of­fi­cer said he shot the 50-year-old Scott in self-de­fense af­ter the two fought and Scott grabbed Slager’s stun gun. They said race didn’t play a role in the shoot­ing and Slager never had any “racial an­i­mus” toward mi­nori­ties.

Still, Slager pleaded guilty in fed­eral court to vi­o­lat­ing Scott’s civil rights. As part of a plea agree­ment reached in May, pros­e­cu­tors dropped state mur­der charges.

“This is a tragedy that shouldn’t have hap­pened,” U.S. Dis­trict Judge David Nor­ton said.

Slager apol­o­gized to the Scott fam­ily, call­ing Scott’s mother and broth­ers by their names.

“With my ac­tions that day, Wal­ter Scott is no longer with his fam­ily, and I am re­spon­si­ble for that,” Slager said. Of their for­give­ness, he added: “I am very grate­ful for that.”

Slager’s emo­tions stood in stark con­trast to his stoic de­meanor dur­ing his state mur­der trial when jurors dead­locked over a ver­dict. He has sev­eral weeks to ap­peal his sen­tence and will be housed at the Charleston County jail un­til he’s as­signed to a fed­eral prison.

Af­ter the sen­tenc­ing, Judy Scott and Wal­ter’s two broth­ers told re­porters that, while they had made peace with the case, they re­mained adamant the of­fi­cer should pay for his crime.

“Who are we not to for­give?” Rod­ney Scott said.

A by­s­tander recorded the shoot­ing on a cell­phone, and it was shared around the world, set­ting off protests across the U.S. as demon­stra­tors said it was an­other egregious ex­am­ple of po­lice of­fi­cers mis­treat­ing AfricanAmer­i­cans.

Slager fired at Scott’s back from 17 feet (5 me­ters) away. Five of eight bul­lets hit him.

The video was seized on by many as vivid proof of what they had been ar­gu­ing for years: that white of­fi­cers too of­ten use deadly force un­nec­es­sar­ily against black peo­ple.

When the jury failed to reach a ver­dict in the state mur­der case, many black peo­ple and oth­ers were shocked and dis­tressed, be­cause the video seemed to some to be an open-and-shut case. Some de­spaired of ever see­ing jus­tice.

The shoot­ing an­gered lo­cal African-Amer­i­cans who com­plained for years that North Charleston po­lice ha­rassed blacks, pulling them over or ques­tion­ing them un­nec­es­sar­ily as they cracked down on crime. But af­ter the shoot­ing, the Scott fam­ily suc­cess­fully pleaded for calm, ask­ing ev­ery­one to let the jus­tice sys­tem run its course.

Two months af­ter the shoot­ing, a young white man killed nine black church mem­bers in a racially mo­ti­vated mas­sacre dur­ing a Bi­ble study in Charleston. The fam­ily mem­bers of those vic­tims struck a sim­i­lar for­give­ness tone af­ter that at­tack.

Be­fore Slager’s sen­tence was handed down, the judge had to de­cide whether the shoot­ing amounted to sec­ond-de­gree mur­der or man­slaugh­ter. Nor­ton found that it was mur­der.

“No mat­ter what sen­tence I give, nei­ther the Scott fam­ily nor the Slager fam­ily is go­ing to think that it’s right,” the judge said.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, Slager picked up his stun gun and placed it next to Scott. Slager con­tended he was se­cur­ing the weapon. Pros­e­cu­tors think he put it there to bol­ster his self-de­fense story.

The judge also found that Slager ob­structed jus­tice when he made state­ments to state po­lice af­ter the shoot­ing.

A pre-sen­tenc­ing re­port for Slager found that he com­mit­ted man­slaugh­ter and rec­om­mended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison. But the judge was not bound by that re­view.

If Slager had faced an­other state trial and been con­victed of mur­der, he could have been sen­tenced to any­where from 30 years to life in prison.

Con­vic­tions in po­lice of­fi­cer shoot­ings are un­com­mon in the U.S. and prison time is even rarer.

GRACE BEAHM — POST AND COURIER VIA AP, FILE

Former North Charleston po­lice of­fi­cer Michael Slager tes­ti­fies dur­ing his mur­der trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, S.C. Slager was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison Thurs­day for the 2015 fa­tal shoot­ing of un­armed black mo­torist Wal­ter Scott.

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