Attorneys for Michael Slager have long argued that the media’s portrayal of the former North Charleston officer has misrepresented the facts surrounding the shooting death of Walter Scott. Now, in response to a motion from federal prosecutors asking that arguments regarding other police shootings and media coverage of Scott’s death be limited in Slager’s upcoming trial, the defense has cited President Donald Trump’s comments regarding “fake news” as a compelling reason to include a discussion of the national climate involving officer-involved shootings in America.

“In contrast to the DOJ’s (Department of Justice) assertion that attacking the media is meant to play on juror biases, Slager should be permitted to point out that stilted and incomplete coverage of the event by the media fueled a national dialogue that assumed Slager was guilty before the first juror was selected,” attorneys for Slager wrote in a response filed last week. “Slager did not volunteer to be the poster boy for officer-involved shootings. He was made into that by the State of South Carolina, the DOJ, and the news media. Parenthetically, Slager notes that none other than the Commander-in-Chief has derided the news media for ‘fake news’ — that is, one-sided presentations designed not to inform, but to inflame passions.”

As has been widely covered by local and national media outlets, Slager faces federal and state charges for the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott following a traffic stop for a non-functioning taillight. Scott fled the scene of the traffic stop and was chased into a nearby empty lot where he was shot five times following a brief struggle with Slager. Slager claims that Scott was able to wrestle away the officer’s Taser before attempting to turn the weapon against him.

The shooting was captured on video by eyewitness Feidin Santana. The footage shows Scott running away from Slager as the officer opens fire. Expert witnesses who testified last year during Slager’s state trial estimate that Scott was approximately 17 feet from Slager when the first shot was fired and as far as 40 feet away when the eight and final shot rang out. As was the case during the state trial, which ended in a hung jury, Slager’s attorneys have requested that the video be excluded from the upcoming federal trial, arguing that the video evidence doesn’t not properly represent Slager’s perspective when he decided to use deadly force. Prosecutors have countered by claiming that the video is an essential piece of evidence.

“Following the shooting, the defendant claimed that he had to use deadly force because Mr. Scott had taken the defendant’s Taser and was moving towards him. Santana’s video clearly contradicts the defendant’s claim and shows that at the time of the shooting Mr. Scott was unarmed and running away from the defendant,” prosecutors wrote in a recent motion, later adding, “Ultimately, the jury will be asked to determine whether the defendant willfully violated Mr. Scott’s constitutional rights by using unreasonable force under the circumstances.”

In characterizing Slager’s state of mind when the shooting took place, his attorneys hope to include evidence related to working conditions at the North Charleston Police Department on the day Scott was killed. Among the “plethora of problems” plaguing the department that day, the defense mentions the high rate of crime in the Charleston Farms community where Slager was patrolling when he encountered Scott and the lack of sufficient back-up in the area.

The defense also alleges that, “The patrol officers, and specifically Slager, were told that traffic stops and field interviews were good opportunities for what they termed ‘community policing’ and both encouraged and rewarded those who made at least three stops of field interviews each day.”

“He knew that he was working in the most dangerous neighborhood of the most dangerous city in the state, that the police force was chronically understaffed, that his supervisor was not there that day, and that despite this fact he was still expected to make traffic stops for minor violations,” defense attorneys wrote of Slager.

Among the federal charges that Slager faces is the claim that he intentionally misled investigators following the shooting. Before learning of the existence of eyewitness video, Slager provided an account of the events surrounding Scott’s death, saying that he fired his weapon in self defense as Scott approached him with the officer’s Taser in hand. Slager’s attorneys hope to present expert testimony showing that his perception and memories of that day’s events were affected by stress. Prosecutors contend that the discrepancies between Slager’s initial account of the shooting and the video are key components in proving his guilt.

“Following the shooting, the defendant first handcuffed Mr. Scott and then jogged directly towards the area where the Taser had landed — which demonstrates that the defendant knew Scott did not have the Taser,” federal prosecutors wrote in a recent court document. “The defendant then picked up the Taser, brought it back to where Mr. Scott was lying, and dropped it next to Mr. Scott’s dead body. Though the defendant later picked up and holstered the Taser, the video demonstrates the defendant’s initial instinct to plant evidence to cover up what he knew to be a bad shooting.”

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