Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager was indicted on federal civil rights charges this week for shooting and killing Walter Scott during a traffic stop in April 2015.
University of South Carolina criminal law professor Colin Miller told South Carolina Radio Network that federal and local prosecutors now appear to be taking a two-pronged approach in Slager’s case. “Given the event that something goes wrong at the state level, there’s still this backstop of a federal prosecution that is out there,” Miller said.
Slager, who is white, already faces a state murder charge after a bystander’s cell phone video showed the officer shooting Scott, a 50-year-old African-American man, in the back after a struggle. Investigators said Slager fired eight shots, hitting the unarmed Scott five times.
The former officer now faces four civils rights related counts that will be prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department. A deprivation of rights charge alleges that Slager violated Scott’s right to be free of unreasonable force, while a weapon charge says simply that Slager employed a gun in depriving Scott of his rights. An obstruction charge states that the former officer misled a State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigator by telling him Scott was moving toward him with the officer’s Taser at the time he fired.
Miller said the federal charges put a spotlight on the shooting. “They’re ensuring that many eyes need to see this case.”