Former North Charleston cop arraigned on federal charges in Walter Scott shooting

VIDEO: Former NCPD officer faces federal charges in Walter Scott killing
Michael Slager (Source: Live 5)
Michael Slager (Source: Live 5)
Walter Scott (Source: Facebook)
Walter Scott (Source: Facebook)
Family members of Walter Scott arrive for Wednesday's arraignment. (Source: Live 5)
Family members of Walter Scott arrive for Wednesday's arraignment. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The former North Charleston police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed man was arraigned on new federal charges Wednesday afternoon.

Michael Slager was indicted Tuesday on three counts counts in the April 4, 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott. Slager pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A federal judge granted Slager bond for the three new federal charges, which include violating Walter Scott's civil rights, using a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and obstruction of justice.

The conditions of Slager's release are same as state's conditions, with the addition of home confinement with GPS, and the surrender of his passport.

Attorneys for the family of Walter Scott said they did not object to the judge's decision.

"He already has the bond, he's under house arrest, he was forced to surrender his passport today, he's not going to escape justice in this situation," Scott family attorney Chris Stewart said at a press conference immediately following the arraignment.

Attorneys Andy Savage and Shaun Kent, who are representing Slager in the state case, were appointed to represent him in the federal case as well.

Investigators say Scott was shot and killed by Slager after Scott fled from his vehicle during a traffic stop that took place on Remount Road in North Charleston.

Federal court documents show Slager was indicted on charges of violating Scott's civil rights, using a weapon during a violent crime and obstruction of justice.

The documents allege Slager shot Scott "without legal justification," violating his right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.

The indictment claims Slager "knowingly and intentionally" misled the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division by falsely stating that he fired his .45 caliber pistol at Scott while Scott was coming forward with a Taser.

Slager told officials he shot Scott because he feared for his life following a physical altercation with the 50-year-old man, who was reportedly unarmed.

The Savage Law Firm, who is representing Slager, released the following statement on Wednesday's federal indictment:

As stated by many already today, this is an unprecedented step by the Department of Justice. It seems very extreme and the timing is very interesting. It really feels as if Officer Slager is carrying the burden of many past cases that were handled differently.

Needless to say, today's indictment is very concerning to Michael. However, he continues to remain grateful for the evidence that exists and at this point still has faith in our justice system and its processes. He believes that when all the facts can be presented in their complete form, the truth will be heard and at that time many can begin to heal.

Andy Savage and Shaun Kent were appointed to represent Michael today. They were unable to attend court and are unavailable today for reasons unrelated to this case. They, as we all do, remain committed to Michael. Once they have an opportunity to review the indictment and the law which governs these charges, including the penalty aspects, Andy will be in a position to comment. We continue to concentrate on the October 31, 2016 State Court trial date.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson also released a statement concerning the indictment:

The civil rights aspect of the killing of Walter Scott has always been important to the Scott family, our community and our nation. For these reasons, I have worked with the Scotts, their attorneys and the Department of Justice in exploring the federal options for this case.

Over the past year and on numerous occasions, I have met with the local United States Attorney's Office and the civil rights division of the Department of Justice regarding the killing of Mr. Scott. In my view, a parallel federal prosecution in this case makes sense and I am pleased that the Department agrees. Simply put, the state and federal prosecutions vindicate separate interests and we both will work hard to find justice for Mr. Scott and Mr. Slager. While certainly the State charges address the killing of Mr. Scott, they do not directly address the alleged violation of Mr. Scott's civil rights by a government employee acting under color of law. It is essential that law enforcement and our community see the federal government address such an important aspect of this case.

Scheduling of the trials for these cases is in the discretion of the South Carolina Circuit Court for the state charges and the United States District Court for the federal charges. The state charges are currently scheduled for trial on October 31, 2016.

As a lawyer and prosecutor, I am subject to special rules limiting my ability to make further public comments about these pending matters. By law, Defendant Slager is presumed innocent unless and until he is proven guilty.

"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 states.

At the time of the shooting, Slager, 33, was a Patrolman First Class with the police department.

Video shot by a bystander surfaced in the days following Scott's death. The cell phone video showed Slager shooting Scott in the back as he ran from the officer.

Officials say the video evidence led to Slager's arrest and murder charge.

Slager was initially placed on administrative leave while SLED investigated the shooting. He was released on $500,000 bond in January.

Last fall, the City of North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family.

If convicted, Slager faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the civil rights violation, as well as a potential $250,000 fine.

The case is being investigated by the FBI's Columbia Division and SLED.

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