CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The former North Charleston police officer accused of shooting and killing a man who fled a traffic stop pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal civil rights charge.
Former officer Michael Slager fatally shot motorist Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, after Scott fled a traffic stop. As part of a plea agreement, that guilty plea paves the way for additional federal and all state charges against him to be dropped.
Slager will not be sentenced until after a sentencing report is completed, a process that could take months.
The maximum penalties of the offense, the agreement states, would be a prison term of up to life, a fine of up to $250,000 and five years of supervised release. There is no mandatory minimum prison sentence or fine.
Slager pleaded guilty to the first count in the federal indictment, a charge that Slager deprived Scott of his civil rights by color of law, at a 2:30 p.m. hearing Tuesday.
The former police officer hugged his lawyer Andy Savage after the plea, was handcuffed and taken to jail.
"Today is a day of victory for Walter," said Judy Scott, Walter Scott's mother."I'm glad [Slager] admitted to what he did. I was praying for him and his whole family the whole time. The forgiver is inside of me."
Family members said they would like to see Slager get life in prison.
The agreement states federal prosecutors will dismiss the remaining counts of the indictment and not file any additional charges against him arising out of the facts forming the basis for the crimes charged in the indictment. Federal prosecutors would also agree to recommend Slager receive a three-level reduction in the offense level under federal sentencing guidelines, provided Slager does not engage "in conduct inconsistent with accepting responsibility."
State charges would also be dropped and no additional charges would be filed by state prosecutors as long as Slager fulfills the agreement, the document states.
Slager was indicted on three federal charges, the charge of depriving Scott of his civil rights under the color of law, a weapons charge and a charge of obstruction of justice in Scott's death. The indictment alleged Slager used excessive force when he shot and killed Scott and intentionally misled SLED investigators by claiming Scott was coming toward him with Slager's stun gun at the time that he fired his weapon, "when in truth, Scott was running away."
Jury selection for Slager's federal trial was scheduled to begin in Columbia later this month.
Slager's attorney says he hopes Slager's acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they grieve.
The family and their attorneys are expected to speak to the media after the hearing.
Ninth Solicitor Scarlett Wilson released the following statement following Slager's guilty plea.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey also released the following statement following the plea hearing:
"It is our hope that today's guilty plea will bring some sense of closure for the Scott family. As this case draws to close, I hope the entire community can move forward to grow stronger and closer."
Court documents stating the exact charge and deal that attorneys and prosecutors made is below:
Slager has maintained that after chasing Scott, the two wound up in a scuffle, during which Scott grabbed Slager's stun gun and attempted to use it on the officer, forcing Slager to use deadly force to stop Scott.
At the time of the shooting, Slager, then 33 years old, was a Patrolman First Class with the police department.
Video shot by a bystander, later identified as Feidin Santana, 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 a murder charge.
Slager's defense has argued the cell phone video did not depict the entire incident because the recording did not capture the two men on the ground when Slager said Scott grabbed the weapon.
A more-than-five-week state trial ended in a mistrial last year after a jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision in the case.
On the anniversary of his brother's death, Anthony Scott said the family will seek justice and will have justice. He said he hopes the Charleston community will remain peaceful throughout the course of the process but said he very much hopes for closure.