COLUMBIA, S.C. — Michael Slager, the former North Charleston white police officer charged with the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday.
Slager, 35, was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, use of a weapon during the commission of a crime of violence and deprivation of rights under color of law. The indictment does not accuse Slager of a hate crime.
All charges stem from the April 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, whom Slager stopped for a minor traffic violation. Scott jumped out of his car and ran, with Slager in pursuit.
The shooting helped spark a national conversation on excessive police force, especially in cases involving white officers shooting black people.
The shooting in a vacant lot was captured on a cell phone video taken by a civilian and was taken as overwhelming evidence by many that Scott’s shooting was a kind of execution rather than a legitimate use of force by a law officer. However, Slager’s lawyer has said there was a fight between the two men that was not captured on video and that Slager fired in fear for his life.
In its obstruction of justice charge, the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina is alleging that Slager, several days after the shooting, took clear steps to impede State Law Enforcement Division agents in their investigation of the matter.
Specifically, the indictment said, Slager “knowingly misled SLED investigators by falsely stating that he (Slager) fired his weapon at Scott while Scott was coming forward at him with a Taser.”
The indictment continues, “In truth and in fact, as defendant Michael Slager then well knew, he (Slager) repeatedly fired his weapon at Scott when Scott was running away from him.”
The indictment was made public Wednesday morning.
The federal government’s weighing in on the matter sets up a separate prosecutorial track from a state prosecution already well under way.
In state court, Slager is scheduled to go on trial on Oct. 31 on murder charges in Scott’s death.
Slager is to appear at a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Charleston on the federal charges.
The video has been cited around the country as a vivid illustration of what African-Americans are talking about when they say white police officers use excessive force against members of their race.
Slager is now free on a $500,000 surety bond.
He has been living at an undisclosed location in South Carolina and must have no contact with the victim’s family. He had been held in solitary confinement at the Charleston County Detention Center since his arrest last April.
The city of North Charleston has approved a $6.5 million settlement with Scott’s family for his death.
If convicted of murder in the state trial, Slager faces 30 years in prison to life without parole.
Although news accounts of Slager’s shooting of Walker invariably mention race, no mention of race was made in the federal indictment made public Wednesday.
Slager used a Glock Model 21 .45 caliber pistol in the shooting, the indictment said.
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