AFRICANGLOBE – The South Carolina police officer who was filmed shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran away and planting evidence on him earlier this year, prompting renewed outcry over the use of lethal force by law enforcement, was formally charged with murder on Monday.
Michael Slager was indicted by a grand jury in Charleston County for the murder of Walter Scott on 4 April, Scarlett Wilson, the solicitor for the ninth judicial circuit, announced at a press conference.
“We will move forward now in preparing our case,” said Wilson. “Really the prosecution work has just begun.”
The brief indictment alleged that Slager killed Scott “with malice aforethought”. It was both considered and returned by the grand jury on Monday morning.
If convicted, Slager could face a sentence of between 30 years and life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Wilson.
Slager, 33, was a patrolman first class for the North Charleston police department when he murdered Scott, 50, after a traffic stop when the officer allegedly noticed that one of Scott’s car tail lights was broken.
Police initially claim that Scott had taken Slager’s Taser and posed a threat. However, video footage filmed on the cellphone of a passerby showed Scott being shot eight times from behind as he ran away empty-handed.
Slager was fired from his job by city authorities after the footage came to light. He is being held at a county jail under protection.
Chris Stewart, the Scott family’s attorney, told reporters his clients were pleased to see “the wheels of justice turning in the right way”.
“The Scott family is as happy as can be,” said Stewart. “But of course the indictment does not make them whole for the loss they have suffered.”
Andrew Savage, Slager’s attorney, said in an emailed statement that the grand jury’s decision was “a formal step, but just another step in the criminal process”.
Savage complained that Slager’s legal team had not been shown details of the state’s case against the former officer.
“Until we have an opportunity to fully evaluate the state’s case and to compare it with our own investigation we will not be commenting on any aspect of the case,” he said.
Amid complaints from supporters of Slager that he will be unable to enjoy a fair trial in a county where Scott’s death is already notorious, Wilson said her office had no intention of moving the prosecution elsewhere. “I feel sure the people of Charleston County can decide it,” said Wilson.
“The issue is not whether or not someone has heard of this case,” said Wilson. “The issue is whether they can put everything they’ve heard aside and make a decision based on the facts and evidence presented in court.”
Several other officers who arrived at the scene of Scott’s murder are likely to face questioning over whether they knew about discrepancies in the official version of events released before the emergence of video footage.
Wilson said at her press conference she had seen no probable cause to charge any of Slager’s former colleagues with criminal acts.
The Scott family’s legal team said on Monday they were readying a civil lawsuit against Slager, the North Charleston police department, police chief Eddie Driggers, and anyone else they deem responsible.
“We need to work out how we ended up in a position where a grand jury has to indict a law enforcement officer with murder,” said Justin Bamberg, another of the family’s attorneys. They expect to file the lawsuit in the coming months, he said.
Stewart and Bamberg said they had not yet decided whether other patrol officers who arrived at the scene of Scott’s death and made statements about Slager’s actions would be named in their civil suit.
By: Jon Swaine
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