On eve of civil rights trial, Michael Slager set to again appear in Charleston federal court
The former North Charleston police officer who was filmed shooting Walter Scott to death is expected to appear Tuesday afternoon for a final hearing before his civil rights trial.
Michael Slager, 35, would face up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious count against him: violating rights under the color of law. He also is charged with lying to investigators and using a firearm in a violent crime.
With jury selection next week and attorneys ready for the May 15 trial, a guilty plea is one of the few developments that would disrupt the proceeding.
Tuesday’s pretrial hearing had been set for the morning, but it was rescheduled for 2:30 p.m. in U.S. District Court in downtown Charleston, according to a Monday filing that did not give a reason for the time change. The hearing was expected to be lengthy, with attorneys slated to offer expert testimony and argue in front of Judge David Norton whether certain witnesses should be allowed to testify in the trial.
Slager, who is white, has maintained that he shot Scott, 50, a black man, in self-defense after Scott took his Taser. But the federal indictment alleges that Slager used excessive force when he opened fire.
The officer pulled over Scott’s car because of a broken brake light on April 4, 2015, and Scott ran. Slager said Scott grabbed the stun gun during a fight.
But the video, filmed by eyewitness Feidin Santana, showed Scott turning around and running as Slager pulled his .45-caliber pistol and started shooting. Five of the eight bullets hit Scott.
Santana called it “abuse,” and his footage captured worldwide attention amid scrutiny of police uses of force against black people.
A jury made up of Charleston County residents last year considered Santana’s and Slager’s views in state court, where the panel could not agree on whether Slager had committed murder, manslaughter or no crime at all.
The jurors for the civil rights proceeding are scheduled to be chosen next week in Columbia from a pool of residents from across South Carolina. The defense team, led by attorney Andy Savage, had argued that a jury that’s less exposed to intense news coverage of the shooting would give Slager a fairer trial.