Former North Charleston officer who shot Walter Scott indicted on federal civil rights violation – Washington Post

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This photo provided by the Charleston County, S.C., Sheriff's Office shows Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Slager has been charged with murder in the shooting death of a black motorist after a traffic stop. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told a news conference that city Slager was arrested and charged Tuesday after law enforcement officials saw a video of the shooting following a Saturday traffic stop. (AP Photo/Charleston County Sheriff's Office)
Michael Slager in a photo last year. (Charleston County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott as he fled a traffic stop last year was indicted by a federal grand jury that charged him with a civil rights violation.

In the indictment filed Tuesday, the grand jury accuses Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, of depriving Scott of his rights under color of law. The grand jury said that when Slager shot Scott “without legal justification,” he took away his constitutional right “to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.”

Slager is also charged with obstruction of justice, with the grand jury saying that he knowingly misled state investigators by telling them that that Scott was approaching him with a Taser, and with one count of using a weapon during “a felony crime of violence.”Scott was unarmed when Slager shot him.

It was not immediately clear who would be representing Slager in this case.

Scott’s death was one of several high-profile incidents last year that fueled a debate over how police use lethal force, as video footage of the shooting was widely seen on cable news and social media.

[‘Look for justice’: A shooting in South Carolina and the power of video]

Slager was indicted last June by a state grand jury on a murder charge. He was one of just 10 officers who were charged with a crime in connection to the 990 fatal police shootings last year, according to a Washington Post database.

Federal civil rights charges are even more rare. An investigation earlier this year by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that the Justice Department has declined to bring federal charges in 96 percent of the more than 13,000 federal civil rights complaints against police officers they’ve received since 1995.

This undated photo provided by Anthony Scott shows Walter Scott, who was killed by a North Charleston, S.C., police officer after a traffic stop on Saturday, April 4, 2015. The officer, Michael Thomas Slager, has been fired and charged with murder. UNDATED PHOTO; AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE. THIS IMAGE MAY ONLY BE USED FOR 14 DAYS FROM TIME OF TRANSMISSION; NO ARCHIVING; NO LICENSING. (AP Photo/Scott Family)Walter Scott in an undated photo. (Anthony Scott via AP)

Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Scott family, said he was relieved and excited by the news of the federal indictment, which he called a historic step toward justice in police brutality cases.

“Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, all of them, every significant case the Justice Department has investigated and no indictments came down. This is the first time that an indictment has come down in a national case,” Stewart said. “I’m still in a state of shock…I don’t know in the past 20 years out of thousands of allegations of police misconduct how often this has happened, if it ever has. The biggest thing is that the general public must understand is how monumental this is.”

[The Post’s database of police shootings this year]

Stewart said the indictment has brought further vindication to the Scott family.

“They are beyond relived and just, they feel vindicated,” Stewart said. “They can’t bring Walter back, but if Walter can be the reason that the federal government starts taking these cases…if Walter Scott can be that example than his death wasn’t in vain.”

The indictment was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Division of South Carolina. While it was received by the court Tuesday and initially sealed, Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant on Wednesday granted a government motion to unseal the case. Marchant also signed an order Tuesday for a warrant to be issued for Slager’s arrest.

A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Charleston.

Further reading:

North Charleston reaches $6.5 million dollar settlement with Scott family

Thousands dead, few prosecuted: An investigation into police shootings

Fatal police shootings in 2015: An attempt to document a previously unknown number

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