U.S. District Judge David Norton released an order clearing the way for Michael Slager’s transfer to a federal prison and detailing exactly why he sentenced the former North Charleston police officer to 20 years in prison.
Slager stopped Walter Scott for a broken brake light on April 4, 2015. Scott attempted to flee the scene, after which Slager shot Scott in the back five times. Bystander Feidin Santana caught video footage on his cell phone of Scott running away from Slager as he was killed.
A state murder trial ended in a hung jury in December 2016. Slager then pled guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights in May 2017. In determining the baseline for the civil rights violation, Judge Norton agreed with federal prosecutors that Slager committed second-degree murder, rather than manslaughter as argued by his defense.
“To decide the reasonableness of Slager’s alleged “heat of passion” in confronting someone who fled after being stopped for a broken brake light, the court must determine what happened in the minutes immediately prior to the events captured by the Santana video,” Judge Norton wrote of the methodology used to arrive at second-degree murder. “Most saliently, it depends on whether Scott was ever “on top of” Slager during the ground altercation and/or was in control of his taser, and whether Scott tased or attempted to tase Slager.”
Slager contended that Scott yelled, “Fuck the police,” during the encounter, but “words alone does not suffice heat of passion finding necessary for manslaughter,” according to the judge.
A video expert brought in by Slagers’ defense team admitted during the sentencing hearings that there was no part in Santana’s video where one could see the Taser closer to Scott than to Slager.
Judge Norton also outlined the many ways in which Slager attempted to deceive law enforcement officers after the shooting.
“Slager gave different stories to NCPD officers at the scene, to SLED investigators in the 72 hours after the shooting, during his trial in state court, and in the pre-trial proceedings in federal court,” Norton wrote in his order.
During an interview with SLED officers and FBI agents on April 7, 2015, Slager said that Scott tried to charge at him with a Taser. This claim was in direct contradiction to Santana’s testimony, Slager’s plea deal, and other accounts put forth by Slager in court.
“Due to Slager’s evolving stories of what happened before and during the shooting, he is not a credible witness,” Norton wrote.
Santana, on the other hand, kept his story straight during the length of both the state and federal trials. He maintained that he never saw Scott lying face up, only face down, and that he was neither carrying anything or charging towards Slager in the moments before he was shot.
“Santana’s statements reveal a consistent story that is at odds with Slager’s presentation of the sequence of events…making Santana a more credible witness,” Norton wrote.
Judge Norton listed five reasons as to why he applied an obstruction of justice enhancement to Slager’s sentence. Among them: Slager’s misleading accounts to NCPD and SLED, his contradictory statements in his federal and state trials, and, most importantly, his tampering with the crime scene by retrieving the Taser from where it lay and dropping it on the ground next to Scott before picking it up and holstering it.
“Shooting a man dead for fleeing, not following instructions, and attempting to get away from an officer after a ground altercation is not proportional,” Norton concluded.
Citing U.S. v. Volpe, in which an NYPD officer was convicted of brutal sexual assault, Slager granted a downward departure based on the “excessive media coverage” of the case leading to a “unique susceptibility of abuse in prison.”
You can read the full order below.
[pdf-1] Stay cool. Support City Paper. City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.