US cop who killed unarmed black man guilty of rights charge

Justice Dept said police officer agreed to single federal charge 5 months after jury failed to convict him of murder

Afp May 03, 2017
South Carolina officer Michael Slager's killing of unarmed Walter Scott sparked widespread protests over police violence against blacks. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: A South Carolina policeman who was filmed shooting an unarmed black man in the back after a traffic stop pleaded guilty Tuesday to unlawful killing while performing official duties, which could bring up to life in prison.

The Justice Department said that former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager, 35, agreed to the single federal charge five months after a jury failed to convict him of murder in the case.

Slager's plea will resolve both the federal and state cases against him over the shooting two years ago, which came amid a spate of police shootings of unarmed black men that sparked widespread anger and protests.

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In December, a lone jury member in the state case prevented a murder conviction, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial and plan for a new trial.

"The Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"Such failures of duty not only harm the individual victims of these crimes; they harm our country, by eroding trust in law enforcement and undermining the good work of the vast majority of honorable and honest police officers."

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Slager, who is white, pulled Walter Scott over for a broken brake light in North Charleston on April 4, 2015.

The 51-year-old Scott got out of his car and tried to flee. Slager chased him and shot him with a Taser, knocking him down. When Scott got up and ran again, Slager shot him five times in the back, killing him.

Slager had claimed that Scott tried to attack him with the Taser. A cellphone video of the incident made by a bystander showed that Slager was in no danger and had no apparent reason for shooting Scott as he ran.

"The defendant used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances," the plea agreement said.

Sentencing in the case is to come at a later date. The charge of depriving a person's civil rights carries a sentence of up to life in prison, and a potential fine of up to $250,000.

"We hope that Michael's acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss," Slager's lawyer Andy Savage said in a statement.

'Dystopic vision'

Meanwhile, police in Dallas, Texas, fired an officer who shot 15-year-old black teenager Jordan Edwards in the head outside a party last weekend, according to The New York Times.

And US media reported the US Justice Department has decided not to charge Louisiana officers over the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge last year. The 37-year-old black man was killed by police while selling CDs outside a convenience store.

Racial justice group Color of Change denounced the move, saying it meant the Justice Department believes that "black lives do not matter."

"This dystopic vision should have been part of America's past, but -- thanks to the white supremacist administration of Donald Trump and his racist cronies like Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon -- it's become our present," Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson wrote in a statement.

Amnesty International USA said the case reflects the "dire need for a nationwide review of laws governing when and how police should use deadly force."


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