By John Monk
Michael Slager, the former North Charleston white police officer charged with the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday.
Slager, 35, was indicted on three charges: obstruction of justice, use of a weapon during the commission of a crime of violence and the civil rights violation of deprivation of rights under color of law. The indictment does not accuse Slager of a hate crime.
All charges stem from the April 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, whom Slager stopped for a minor traffic violation. Scott jumped out of his car and ran, with Slager in pursuit.
The shooting helped spark a national conversation on excessive police force, especially in cases involving white officers shooting black people.
The shooting in a vacant lot was captured on a cell phone video taken by a civilian and was taken as evidence by many that Scott's shooting was a kind of execution rather than a legitimate use of force by a law officer. However, Slager's lawyer has said there was a fight between the two men that was not captured on video and that Slager fired in fear for his life.
In its obstruction of justice charge, the U.S. Attorney's office in South Carolina is alleging that Slager, several days after the shooting, took steps to impede State Law Enforcement Division agents in their investigation of the matter.
Specifically, the indictment said, Slager "knowingly misled SLED investigators by falsely stating that he (Slager) fired his weapon at Scott while Scott was coming forward at him with a Taser."
The indictment continues, "In truth and in fact, as defendant Michael Slager then well knew, he (Slager) repeatedly fired his weapon at Scott when Scott was running away from him."
The indictment was made public Wednesday morning.
In the civil rights violation, the indictment says that Slager, "while acting under colr of law as an officer with the North Charleston police department, shot Walter Scott without legal justicification, willfully depriving him of the right ... to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer."
The indictment adds, "The offense involved the use of a dangerous weapon, and an attempt to kill, and resulted in body injury to, and the death of, Walter Scott."
If convicted, Slager faces a maximum sentence of 1ife in prison for the civil rights violation, as well as a potential $250,000 fine.
Slager is to appear at a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Charleston on the federal charges.
The federal government's weighing in on the matter sets up a separate prosecutorial track from a state prosecution already well under way.
In state court, Slager is scheduled to go on trial on Oct. 31 on murder charges in Scott's death.
The video has been cited around the country as a vivid illustration of what African-Americans are talking about when they say white police officers use excessive force against members of their race.
Slager is now free on a $500,000 surety bond.
He has been living at an undisclosed location in South Carolina and must have no contact with the victim's family. He had been held in solitary confinement at the Charleston County Detention Center since his arrest last April.
The city of North Charleston has approved a $6.5 million settlement with Scott's family for his death.
If convicted of murder in the state trial, Slager faces 30 years in prison to life without parole.
Although news accounts of Slager's shooting of Walker invariably mention race, no mention of race was made in the federal indictment.
Slager used a Glock Model 21 .45 caliber pistol in the shooting, the indictment said.
The case is being investigated by the FBI's Columbia Division and SLED. The case is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Eric Klumb of the District of South Carolina and trial attorney Jared Fishman of the Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section.
This is not the first federal prosecution of an excessive force case by a South Carolina law officer
In 2011, a federal jury in Columbia convicted former Kershaw County deputy Oddie Tribble on a civil rights charge of beating a handcuffed inmate and breaking his leg with a metal police baton. The incident was captured on video. Both Tribble and the inmate were black.
Federal Judge Cameron McGowan Currie sentenced Tribble to five years. He was released from prison last January.
(c)2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.)