Prosecutors weigh charges in South Carolina slain motorist case: lawyers

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 04, 2015 3:48 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - The Justice Department is considering filing federal charges against a white former police officer charged by South Carolina prosecutors with killing an unarmed black man who ran from a traffic stop, lawyers in the state case said on Friday.

Ex-patrolman Michael Slager was arrested on a state murder charge in April for the death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, a shooting that was captured on video by a bystander using his cellphone.

It was not immediately clear what charges federal prosecutors might pursue in the case. Scott's death added to concerns about the use of force against minorities by police in cities across the United States. Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina could not be reached for comment.

Slager's lawyer would not discuss with Reuters the contents of a letter he received from the federal government but speculated during a court hearing in Charleston that his client might be charged with using excessive force.

"The feds have some interest in this case," said state prosecutor Scarlett Wilson, who told a judge she had seen the letter.

Defense lawyer Andy Savage said the federal interest could complicate his efforts to obtain a speedy trial for his client, who has been jailed since his arrest.

Savage is requesting the trial be held next spring.

Wilson asked for a November 2016 trial date, citing the murder trial already set for next July for accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, whose case she also is prosecuting.

Savage said he would not agree to waiting that long, noting his client was indicted before the church shooting that left nine dead in June.

"His case is every bit as important to the community," Savage said of Slager.

No decision on a trial date was made.

Slager appeared at the hearing shackled and wearing a striped jail uniform. His defense has said he feared for his life after he pulled Scott, 50, over for a broken brake light on April 4 and the two men engaged in a physical confrontation.

Prosecutors have said Scott was running from Slager and there was no justification for the eight gunshots fired at his back.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Frances Kerry)