Ex-officer charged in South Carolina death speaks out, seeking bond

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2015 8:49 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A white former police officer told a South Carolina judge on Friday that he was not a flight risk and should be released on bond while awaiting his trial in death of an unarmed black man who was shot in the back while fleeing a traffic stop.

Michael Slager, 33, spoke in court for the first time since he was arrested in April in the death of Walter Scott, 50.

He was charged with murder after a bystander's cellphone video showed the officer firing his gun eight times at Scott's back as the motorist ran away. No trial date has been set.

"I would like to be with my family," said Slager, now the father of a baby boy born after his arrest, according to court records.

Judge Clifton Newman pledged to make a decision "as expeditiously as possible" on whether Slager should be released on bond. He has been jailed since his arrest, and his release is opposed by prosecutors and Scott's family.

Video footage of the shooting in North Charleston drew wide outrage during a year of public debate over police killings of unarmed black men in several U.S. cities.

Newman, who heard 90 minutes of arguments about the bail and other defense motions on Thursday, is also weighing a request by defense attorneys to know more about the race, gender and backgrounds of the grand jurors who indicted Slager.

Slager's attorney argued in court on Thursday that the former officer and motorist had been engaged in a violent confrontation before the shooting.

Both sides said scheduling a trial date had been complicated by another high-profile case involving the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston this summer, a case in which Slager's prosecutor and his defense attorney are also involved.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is seeking the death penalty for the accused church shooter, Dylann Roof, and defense attorney Andy Savage is representing the three survivors of the shooting.

The judge requested another hearing later this fall to discuss possible trial dates in 2016.

A protester outside the courtroom on Friday said she was concerned about police conduct.    "If he gets out on bail, it shows that North Charleston police will have the mindset of being above the law," said Karen Oliver of Charleston.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)