December 07, 2017

Ex-S.C. cop, a South Jersey native, guilty of murder in shooting death of unarmed man

Courts Murder
North Charleston Police Shooting Grace Beahm / Post and Courier / Pool-File/AP

In a November 2016 file photo, former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager testifies during his murder trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, S.C. Slager is a 2001 graduate of Lenape Regional High School in Medford, Burlington County.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A white former South Carolina police officer was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison by the judge who found him guilty of committing second-degree murder when he shot an unarmed black motorist to death.

U.S. District Judge David Norton announced the punishment and deciding Michael Slager's shooting of Walter Scott in April 2015 was murder, not manslaughter. Sentencing guidelines recommended 19 to 24 years in prison. The 

Slager is a 2001 graduate of Lenape Regional High School in Medford, Burlington County, and worked as a waiter in Voorhees prior to leaving South Jersey in 2003 to join the U.S. Coast Guard. He served in the Coast Guard for six years before joining the North Charleston Police Department in 2009.

Before the sentence was announced the judge heard testimony from Scott's family and friends. Scott's mother, Judy Scott, said through tears that her faith in God gives her the ability to forgive Slager. Scott's brother Anthony Scott echoed that sentiment.

"I'm not angry at you, Michael. Michael, I forgive you, and Michael, I do pray for you now and for your family, because we've gone through a traumatic time," he said.

Attorneys for Slager had argued that he shot 50-year-old Walter Scott in self-defense after the two fought and Scott reached for Slager's stun gun. They said race didn't play any role in the shooting and that Slager never had any "racial animus" toward minorities.

Still, Slager pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Scott's civil rights. As part of the plea agreement reached in May, prosecutors dropped state murder charges. A year ago, a state judge declared a mistrial when jurors deadlocked.

A bystander captured the shooting on a cellphone, and it was shared around the world, setting off Black Lives Matter protests across the United States as demonstrators said it was the perfect example of police officers' mistreatment of African-Americans.

The bystander started recording after the struggle between Slager and Scott. The video showed Scott running away from Slager and the officer firing eight times. Scott was hit in the back five times.

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

The judge also found that Slager, 36, obstructed justice when he made statements to state police after the shooting.

On Wednesday, Scott's youngest son spoke so he could return to his high school classes. Clutching a photograph of his father, Miles Scott said he has had trouble sleeping ever since his father's death. He said he misses watching football games with his dad and can't fathom not being able to watch with him the game they both loved.

"I miss my father every day," Miles Scott said through tears. "I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allows because he murdered my one and only father."

Federal officials recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison. His attorneys had argued Slager should face far less time.