CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – A white former South Carolina police officer who pleaded guilty to violating an unarmed black motorist’s civil rights in a 2015 fatal shooting committed second-degree murder, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.
U.S. District Judge David Norton said former North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager also obstructed justice by lying to investigators three days after he shot and killed 50-year-old Walter Scott.
Slager had said there was a struggle between the two men and Scott tried to take his stun gun, but Norton said a bystander’s video of the incident showed otherwise.
The judge did not immediately sentence Slager, 36, who could face up to life in prison. The former police officer has been in jail since his plea in May.
“No matter what sentence I give, neither the Scott family nor Slager family is going to like it or think it’s right,” the judge said in a Charleston courtroom.
The judge agreed with prosecutors who argued at Slager’s sentencing hearing this week that he showed malice and calculation in the April 2015 shooting. Norton rejected the defense argument that Slager was provoked or acted in the heat of passion.
Slager had pulled Scott over for a broken brake light. After the father of four ran from the traffic stop, Slager shot him from behind eight times, hitting him five times.
The cellphone video of the shooting went viral, renewing concerns in the United States about police use of deadly force against unarmed black men.
A state murder trial ended last December with a hung jury, and state prosecutors dropped the murder case in exchange for the plea on the federal charge.
In court on Thursday, members of Scott’s family offered forgiveness to Slager but said their pain had not diminished.
“We will never be the same again,” said Anthony Scott, the motorist’s older brother. “What ate me up for so long is how could someone shoot someone in the back like that as they were running away?”
Reporting by Greg Lacour; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jonathan Oatis