A former South Carolina police officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed man named Walter Scott in April 2015.
U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled Thursday that Michael Slager, a former North Charleston officer, committed the murder and also obstructed justice in statements made to state police following the shooting, according to the Associated Press. The guideline range for the crime was 19 to 24 years.
Slager pleaded guilty in May to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights as part of a federal plea agreement, after which the state dropped first-degree murder charges against Slager. His attorneys said he shot 50-year-old Scott in self-defense after the two fought and Scott grabbed Slager’s stun gun.
According to reports, Slager (who is white) stopped Scott (who is black) for a broken taillight on April 4, 2015. According to Slager, Scott wrestled away his Taser after fleeing the stop. Slager is shown on a bystander-recorded video, shooting Scott five times in the back as he ran away.
Slager’s attorneys said race didn’t play a role in the shooting, and that Slager never had any “racial animus” towards minorities.
Slager, who has been in jail since May 2015, faced Scott’s family in court during the sentencing hearing. Judy Scott, the slain man’s mother, turned to Slager and said her faith in God gives her the ability to forgive him for killing her son. She also told Slager she hoped he would repent for the killing and allow Jesus to come into his heart, according to the AP.
“This is a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened,” Judge David Norton said during the trial.
Before the sentence was handed down, Norton had to decide whether the shooting amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter. Norton went with the murder charge.
The video of Slager shooting Scott went viral in 2015, sending shock waves through the public, especially in black communities. The shooting inflamed the debate about police officers’ use of deadly force and raised accusations of more frequent application against minorities and alleged systemic racism in policing.
- In 2016, police fatally shot 233 blacks, the vast majority armed and dangerous.
- Only 16 black male victims of police shootings were “unarmed” in those shootings.
- In 2015, a police officer was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male was to be killed by a police officer.
- Black males have made up 42 percent of all cop-killers over the last decade, though representing only 6 percent of the population.
- Seventy-two percent of the nation’s officers say that they and their colleagues are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons.