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Former S.C. Police Officer Indicted On Civil Rights Charges In Death Of Black Man

Michael Slager (left) appeared with defense attorney Cameron Blazer during a Circuit Court hearing last September at the Charleston County Courthouse in Charleston, S.C.
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Michael Slager (left) appeared with defense attorney Cameron Blazer during a Circuit Court hearing last September at the Charleston County Courthouse in Charleston, S.C.

In South Carolina, a federal grand jury has indicted a white, former police officer on civil rights charges over the shooting death of an unarmed black man last April.

The killing of Walter Scott garnered national attention after the release of a cellphone video showing then-Officer Michael Slager repeatedly firing his weapon as Scott ran through a field in North Charleston, S.C. As the Two-Way has reported, the 50-year-old father of four fled after a traffic stop.

Slager, 34, has already been charged with murder in state court. He was released on bail in January and has been under house arrest.

The murder trial is scheduled to continue in October, South Carolina Public Radio reports. It adds: "Last fall, North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family."

A federal judge decided Wednesday that Slager will remain free on bond, according to news reports.

According to the grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday, Slager is charged with three counts: "charges for a federal civil rights offense, using a firearm during the commission of a civil rights offense and obstruction of justice." The Justice Department says the charges could carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The indictment states that Slager "shot Walter Scott without legal justification, willfully depriving him of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer."

Slager is also accused of misleading law enforcement. That's tied to the timing of when he fired at Scott. The court documents read:

"Specifically, defendant MICHAEL SLAGER knowingly misled [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] investigators by falsely stating that he (SLAGER) fired his weapon at Scott while Scott was coming forward at him with a Taser.

"In truth and in fact, as defendant MICHAEL SLAGER then well knew, he (SLAGER) repeatedly fired his weapon at Scott as Scott was running away from him."

The Post and Courier describes the federal charges as "a rare measure in police shootings that gives authorities another route to reach a conviction." It says:

"The new charges could serve as a backstop if the state's case against Slager were to fail. Putting him on trial in both state and federal courts for the same shooting would not be double jeopardy because the courts are sovereign entities."

You can read the full indictment here:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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