A white police officer who argued that he fired eight times at an unarmed black man because he feared for his life pleaded guilty to a civil rights charge that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison Tuesday.
Michael Slager pulled Walter Scott over in April 2015 over a busted brake light. When Scott fled the scene, Slager opened fire and hit him five times in the back. The 50-year-old died from his injuries at the scene.
The killing was captured on video and became the focus of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation.
Though Slager’s plea deal doesn’t mention race, it does acknowledge that Slager’s “actions were done willfully, that he acted voluntarily and intentionally and with specific intent to do something that the law forbids.”
By admitting he sought to deprive Scott of his civil rights — a federal offense — Slager may end up spending decades behind bars.
That Slager would ever end up serving time was not always clear. Though he was fired just days after the killing — “I have watched the video, and I was sickened by what I saw,” the North Charleston police chief told reporters — a state murder case against Slager ended in a mistrial five months ago after the jury failed to reach a verdict.
“In my heart, I will find the peace to forgive Michael Slager,” Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott, said after the mistrial. “But at this present time, until my family can see justice, no, there’s no forgiveness.”
In exchange for the plea deal, officials agreed to drop efforts to charge Slager again for murder.
“Now that Slager has pleaded guilty to a willful violation, admitted the facts we set out to prove and waived the right to appeal his conviction, a successive prosecution by the State is not necessary,” Scarlett Wilson, the prosecutor who initially tried Slager, said in a statement. “The civil rights aspect of the killing of Walter Scott has always been important to the Scott family, to our community and to our nation.”
Scott’s family also won a $6.5 million settlement against the city of North Charleston. The Scotts’ lawyer in that case, Chris Stewart, told the Associated Press Tuesday, “We know what justice looks like. It doesn’t look like a big settlement check. It looks like today.”
Andy Savage, the lawyer who represented Slager, did not immediately return VICE News’s request for comment.