Ex-officer charged in fatal S.C. shooting seeks release
Charleston, S.C. — Attorneys for a white former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man during a traffic stop are expected to argue Thursday that he should be released from jail before his murder trial because he poses no threat to the public.
Lawyers for Michael Slager have filed 150 pages of documents ahead of the hearing, including a toxicology report showing there was cocaine in Walter Scott’s blood when he was killed. The documents also included a psychological assessment that the former North Charleston officer poses little danger of committing violence.
The assessment, by Charleston-area psychologist Dr. Leonard Mulbry Jr., concluded that Slager has no criminal history, is mentally stable and has no history of physical violence outside his work as a policeman. The report found Slager “to be at very low risk of future violence.”
The decision on whether to free Slager on bond rests with a judge. Judges considering bond generally weigh whether a suspect is a risk of committing other crimes or a risk of fleeing, not the person’s guilt or innocence. And some defendants charged with murder in Charleston County have been released on bond. But Slager’s case is unique, said Joe Savitz, a criminal defense attorney in Columbia.
“In a case like this, you have got the video tape, which regardless of what he says about what the tape really shows, shows him shooting a man repeatedly in the back,” Savitz said, referring to a bystander’s cellphone video that captured Slager firing eight times as the 50-year-old Scott ran away.
“It would take a very courageous judge to let him out under the circumstances. If the judge lets him out, and Charleston just goes up in flames, they’re going to blame the judge. No judge wants to be responsible for additional violence.”
Slager, 33, has been in solitary confinement since his arrest. He was fired after the shooting, which inflamed the national debate about how blacks are treated by law officers.
Slager faces 30 years to life without parole if convicted of murder. There were no aggravating circumstances such as robbery or kidnapping, so the death penalty doesn’t apply in the case, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson has said.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Scott’s family called for peace, an act some have credited — along with the officer’s speedy arrest — with staving off the protests and violence that have erupted in other cities where black men have died during encounters with police. But, if Slager is released, some community leaders said that could change rapidly, forecasting an uneasy situation that could mean protests.
“We cannot continue to give grace, we cannot continue to be forgiving, unless we see that the other side of the fence is willing to work along with us, to see things our way,” Thomas Dixon of People United Take Back Our Community said at a news conference Wednesday in front of the jail where Slager is being held. “In the event that there is no grace, I guarantee you, the days of grace in Charleston soon will expire. What’s beyond that, I’m not sure.”