WASHINGTON – A former police officer who was shown fatally shooting Walter Scott in the back two years ago in a shocking video that went viral – sparking nationwide protests and reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement – was sentenced Thursdav evening to 20 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge David Norton in Charleston, S.C., said Michael Slager, 36, committed second-degree murder when he shot the unarmed Scott with “malice and recklessness,” and also obstructed justice by giving false statements to investigators.
Slager is white; Scott was black.
A month-long state murder trial trial ended last December in a mistrial after a jury of 11 whites and one black man deadlocked. Slager pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of violating Scott’s civil rights by unjustly shooting him. In exchange, state prosecutors dropped a murder charge and federal prosecutors dropped two other charges.
The former North Charleston police officer initially said he feared for his life after pulling over 50-year-old Scott, allegedly for a broken tail light. Scott reached for Slager’s stun gun, he said.
Bystander Feidin Santana testified that he saw Slager taser Scott while they were on the ground but that he never saw Scott fight, punch or charge the officer.
Santana’s cellphone video showed Slager firing his service revolver eight times as the father of four ran away. The video also showed Slager placing an object next to Scott that prosecutors said was a stun gun.
The Charleston County coroner testified that Scott died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds in his back.
Protests held nationwide after the shooting
Across the nation the shooting sparked protests against police brutality and racial bias by law enforcement officers.
Slager was fired shortly after the shooting. The Coast Guard veteran is married and has a son who was born two weeks after his arrest as well as two stepchildren. He could have received a sentence ranging from no prison time to life in prison.
His wife, parents and sister begged the judge for a lenient sentence. Jamie Slager told Norton her husband had to make a split-second decision.
But Scott’s youngest son, Miles, had asked the judge to sentence the former officer to life.
“My heart is destroyed…,” the teen said in court on Wednesday, pointing out that his father would never see him play high school football or graduate. “I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allow because he murdered my one and only father,” he said, as his father’s parents, siblings and other family members looked on.
Federal prosecutors also requested life in prison for Slager.
The city of North Charleston paid the Scott family a $6.5 million settlement in October 2015.
Scott’s brother: ‘We have gotten justice, set a roadmap’
After Thursday’s sentencing, Scott’s older brother, Anthony, said at a news conference: “We feel like we have gotten justice today.”
He said his family “will never be the same,” and made several Biblical references while describing their ordeal.
“The truth was told. We did not believe the original report. We did not believe that. We did not trust that. But at the end of the day God had a ram in the bush and his name was Santana, who was brave enough to film this horrendous act that was done to my brother.”
“[W]e have come through the storm and through the tears but we have not fallen; our heads are not bowed but … held high, and we are proud to be here today … seeking justice for Walter.”
He said the family has “set a roadmap” that other families in similar circumstances can follow. He encouraged them “to believe in God and try to keep the peace. We thank Charleston for keeping the peace; we thank the United States for keeping peace…”
Scott noted that the family would have preferred a longer sentence, “but we got time and this is a first and it’s historic, and we did it the right way. .. All the I’s were dotted and all the T’s were crossed.”
He singled out the family’s attorneys, Chris Stewart and Justin Bamberg, as well as the Department of Justice and state prosecutors. “We thank everybody that had a part in this.”
Judy Scott clutched a large photo of her slain son as she spoke to the media. “I thank God for all the prayers that went up for our family. I thank God for these attorneys … I just thank God for everything that he has done. My soul is rejoicing right now because of Jesus.”
According to published reports, she had turned to Slager earlier in court and said, “I forgive you.”