A Semblance of Justice For Walter Scott
By Michael Sainato
Federal judge David Norton sentenced former North Charleston South Carolina Police Officer
Michael Slager to 20 years in prison on Dec. 7 after he plead guilty to violating Scott’s civil
rights by shooting him with no justification.
“Today is monumental,” said Justin Bamberg, attorney representing Walter Scott’s family, in an
interview with the Real News Network. “This case has been the prototype for how officer-involved
incidents should be handled. To see a law enforcement get sentenced to 20 years in federal
prison for killing somebody is historic.”
A bystander recorded Slager shoot and kill unarmed 50-year-old Coast Guard Veteran and father
of four Walter Scott while he ran away during a traffic stop for a broken tail light in April 2015.
Scott’s family said he likely fled due to back payments in child support he owed. The video became
a key piece of evidence for prosecutors and experts have noted a conviction may have been
unlikely without it. Slager fired eight shots at Scott, hitting him five times, and handcuffed him
afterward. Slager claimed Scott took his taser, but the video debunked the officer’s defense and
shows Slager dropping his taser near Scott’s body on the ground.
Slager was fired days after the shooting, and the City of North Charleston paid a $6.5 million
settlement to the family of Walter Scott in October 2015, the largest in the history of South Carolina
in an officer-involved case. As a result of the shooting, the Department of Justice launched an
investigation into the North Charleston Police Department and recommended several reforms, but
the investigation was never completed. Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department refused to release the
unfinished report, arguing in October 2017 the report is exempt from Freedom of Information Act
requests out of a “commitment to respecting local law enforcement.”
In May 2016, a grand jury formally indicted Slager with deprivation of rights under the color of the law,
use of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime and obstruction of justice. Slager, who is 36
years old, faced 30 years to life in prison.
A mistrial was declared in December 2016 due to a deadlocked jury, but in the midst of a pending retrial,
Slager pleaded guilty in May 2017. In return, as part of the plea deal, prosecutors would refrain from
filing any further charges in the case and drop the obstruction of justice and use of a firearm during the
commission of a violent crime charges, reducing the sentence to 20 years. Its unclear if Slager’s
attorneys will try to appeal the sentence.
Between 2005 to 2015, only 13 police officers have been convicted of murder or manslaughter in fatal on
duty shootings. According to data compiled by the Washington Post, 909 people have been shot and
killed by police in 2017, a slight decrease from 995 in 2015, and 963 in 2016. Slager’s conviction is a
rare example of police accountability in a wide span of unarmed black men, women, and children dying
from police shootings or in police custody.