Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager, 35, chased after 50-year-old Walter Scott as he fled a traffic stop in April 2015. Cell phone video that a bystander filmed shows Slager raise his gun and point it at Scott, whose back was toward the officer while he ran away.
Slager fired eight times, hitting Scott five times and killing him.
The former officer pled guilty on Tuesday afternoon to one federal charge of violating Scott’s civil rights by using excessive force. The plea came on the eve of his federal trial.
In exchange for the guilty plea, two other federal charges against Slager will be dropped. He will also avoid a jury trial, according to the LA Times.
“We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss,” Slager’s lawyer, Andrew Savage III, said in a statement.
The Department of Justice said in a statement that Slager “willfully used deadly force on Walter Scott even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Scott’s killing set off a firestorm of protests in Charleston, where the treatment of blacks by police officers has been widely criticized.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a black man, said he was pulled over seven times in the course of one year in his state.
“There is a deep divide between the black community and law enforcement ― a trust gap,” Scott said last year. “We cannot ignore these issues. Because while so many officers do good ― and we should be very thankful in support of all those officers that do good ― some simply do not. I’ve experienced it myself.”
At his state trial last year, Slager said he felt his life was in danger.
“My mind was like spaghetti,” he told jurors.
Despite the video evidence, Slager was able to walk out of the courtroom due to a mistrial. One of the 12 jurors could not “with good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” the juror wrote to the judge. His state murder charge will now be dropped in exchange for Tuesday’s guilty plea.
A sentencing date for Slager has not yet been determined. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.