COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A fired white police officer planned to plead guilty Tuesday to violating the civil rights of an unarmed black motorist who was running away from him when he shot him down, according to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Associated Press.
The 13-page document also notes that as part of the deal, South Carolina prosecutors would drop a pending murder charge against Michael Slager, effectively closing both parallel cases against the former North Charleston police officer.
Slager, 35, could have been imprisoned for life in each case if convicted in the April 2015 death of Walter Scott. He had been scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday for motions ahead of his federal trial planned for later this month
A bystander captured Scott’s death on his cellphone, in a video viewed millions of times. The 50-year-old motorist ran from a traffic stop, and when Slager caught up with him, the two men struggled over the officer’s Taser. Scott broke away and ran again before Slager shot at him eight times from at least 20 feet. Five bullets hit him in the back.
Other killings of black men by white officers had raised alarm, but the video captured Scott’s death so clearly that many more people outside African-American communities came to accept the complaints fueling the Black Lives Matter movement.
In March, a judge ruled that jurors in Slager’s federal trial would be allowed to view the video, over objections by his defense attorneys.
The proposed plea deal in the civil rights case makes no mention of race.
“The defendant willfully used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances,” according to the plea agreement.
“The defendant acknowledges that during the time he used deadly force, he knew that the use of deadly force was unnecessary and excessive, and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Despite failing to secure a conviction against Slager last year when his murder trial ended in a hung jury, state prosecutors had been planning to retry him later this year. The deal, which also drops the two remaining federal charges against Slager, drops his pending murder charge.
Slager still faces the possibility of life in prison as well as $250,000 in fines at his sentencing, but prosecutors are proposing a sentence based on federal guidelines for a second-degree murder conviction, which recommend more than 20 years.
That hearing will likely come after federal officials spend several weeks preparing a presentencing report.
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