CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dec 7, 2017, 3:18 PM ET

White ex-cop gets 20 years for Walter Scott slaying

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One by one, relatives of the late Walter Scott urged a judge to mete out a significant punishment for Michael Slager, the white former police officer who fatally shot Scott, an unarmed black man, in the back after a 2015 traffic stop.

Through tears, Scott's family told Slager they felt sorrow for him and the loss his young children would feel in his absence. In the end, a judge sentenced Slager to 20 years in prison, giving the Scott family the justice they had sought ever since a stranger came to them with the shocking video of Scott being killed.

"I forgive Michael Slager. I forgive you," Scott's mother, Judy, said as she turned toward her son's killer. "I pray for you, that you would repent and let Jesus come in your life."

Sitting just a few feet away, Slager wiped tears from his eyes and mouthed: "I'm sorry."

The punishment wrapped up a case that became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Slager, 36, is one of only a few police officers to go to prison for a fatal shooting, and his sentence is by far the stiffest since the shootings came under extra scrutiny in recent years.

Attorneys for the former North Charleston officer said he shot the 50-year-old Scott in self-defense after the two fought and Scott grabbed Slager's stun gun. They said race didn't play a role in the shooting and Slager never had any "racial animus" toward minorities.

Still, Slager pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Scott's civil rights. As part of a plea agreement reached in May, prosecutors dropped state murder charges.

"This is a tragedy that shouldn't have happened," U.S. District Judge David Norton said.

Slager apologized to the Scott family, calling Scott's mother and brothers by their names.

"With my actions that day, Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I am responsible for that," Slager said. Of their forgiveness, he added: "I am very grateful for that."

Slager's emotions stood in stark contrast to his stoic demeanor during his state murder trial when jurors deadlocked over a verdict. He has several weeks to appeal his sentence and will be housed at the Charleston County jail until he's assigned to a federal prison.

After the sentencing, Judy Scott and Walter's two brothers told reporters that, while they had made peace with the case, they remained adamant the officer should pay for his crime.

"Who are we not to forgive?" Rodney Scott said.

A bystander recorded the shooting on a cellphone, and it was shared around the world, setting off protests across the U.S. as demonstrators said it was another egregious example of police officers mistreating African-Americans.

Slager fired at Scott's back from 17 feet (5 meters) away. Five of eight bullets hit him.

The video was seized on by many as vivid proof of what they had been arguing for years: that white officers too often use deadly force unnecessarily against black people.

When the jury failed to reach a verdict in the state murder case, many black people and others were shocked and distressed, because the video seemed to some to be an open-and-shut case. Some despaired of ever seeing justice.

The shooting angered local African-Americans who complained for years that North Charleston police harassed blacks, pulling them over or questioning them unnecessarily as they cracked down on crime. But after the shooting, the Scott family successfully pleaded for calm, asking everyone to let the justice system run its course.

Two months after the shooting, a young white man killed nine black church members in a racially motivated massacre during a Bible study in Charleston. The family members of those victims struck a similar forgiveness tone after that attack.

Before Slager's sentence was handed down, the judge had to decide whether the shooting amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter. Norton found that it was murder.

"No matter what sentence I give, neither the Scott family nor the Slager family is going to think that it's right," the judge said.

After the shooting, Slager picked up his stun gun and placed it next to Scott. Slager contended he was securing the weapon. Prosecutors think he put it there to bolster his self-defense story.

The judge also found that Slager obstructed justice when he made statements to state police after the shooting.

A pre-sentencing report for Slager found that he committed manslaughter and recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison. But the judge was not bound by that review.

If Slager had faced another state trial and been convicted of murder, he could have been sentenced to anywhere from 30 years to life in prison.

Convictions in police officer shootings are uncommon in the U.S. and prison time is even rarer.

South Carolina has been aggressive in charging white officers who shoot unarmed black people. Four have pleaded guilty in state or federal court in the past six years. But only Slager and former state trooper Sean Groubert, who shot a man as he tried to get his wallet during a seat belt violation check, will have been sent to prison. Groubert was sentenced to five years behind bars.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .

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  • Edgar Lane

    Nice for ABC to make sure they put "White Cop" in the headline, incase we could not see the photos of him and the victim family

  • Plume

    Finally someone gets arrested! I wish that articles like this one would stop only singling out the African community and BLM as the only ones outraged of all the crimes committed by bad cops because #1, all of the racist single them out and #2 other minorities and some white people are as outraged and scared.

  • Standing A

    A 20 year sentence is not justice. Slager should spend the rest of his life in prison.

  • bsands

    A small victory for Justice......At last......

  • Matt Milsap

    "White ex-cop"? I expect to see race identifiers on every single crime article ABC posts.

  • CountryBoyMusings

    What's the benefit of this article title starting with, "White..."? I'm not arguing the sentence and that justice is being served at all. I'm just not clear on the value of giving an article title reference like that.

  • Freedom Kinney

    Stop the racist Post you ask who keeps the racist rants going look at Abc .Yes a cop who shot man for A VERY POOR REASON IS GOING TO JAIL .That is were he should be for killing another man for a very poor excuse agreed !! Why the dude chose to run we will never know police themselves need to rid the bad weeds out .We do not need more racist rants in the news stop the racism Abc . you sure neglect posting when my race shoots some one that selective racism ..Un Social media is destroying this country ..

  • 47_Percenter

    I hear the soon-to-be incarcerated creep's family are hoping Trump will pardon the guy!

  • Meridian King

    Good.

  • Bombhead

    He'll be out in probably 6 years.

  • Tom Stockner

    'American progress' - defined by TRUE equality of justice, access, employment and rights - moves at a glacial pace thanks to Republicans and conservatives primarily because their philosophy is based on an imaginary idyllic past that NEVER existed for non-white Americans.

    The bigoted right wingers who oppose progress and support a liar, criminal and racist like Trump will be inevitably defeated and relegated to the ashbin of history... and that history will not be a fairy tale construct like the 'good old days' that conservative whites imagine.

    Time to 'get real' in America.
    Time to 'get rid' of a fake President.

  • FoCoBiking

    I usually support cops, but he murdered Walter Scott in cold blood. A life sentence seems appropriate.

  • Shawn Tee

    Race baiting abc at it again....

  • Arne Yoga

    Wow, what's the US coming to when it sentences cops for the murders they commit? Civilized?
    What's next? Finding Trump guilty of treason? Then the world will breathe a sigh of relief.

  • WhoDat

    Did the family toss him some lube?

  • bobcat4424

    I would also point out something that most journalists seem to have missed: the "traffic stop" was for a "Libby light" that was not working. The Libby light is a federal requirement for manufacturers and does not pertain to motorists. NO state requires that the Libby light be working and only a handful of states even require two working brake lights. So the initial traffic stop was bogus. The most likely explanation is that the cop saw a Black man driving a Mercedes and immediately assumed it was stolen.

  • NASHUA007

    Don't B gullible/this pig will do a year or 2 and then motion the court and get released.
    Hopefully some 1 kills the maggot!!!

  • daniael

    he should simply fell on the stairs, just like we do with cop killers in certain states, for he is disgracing law enforcement honor

  • MeowMix

    20 years is too much! I wanted to see this guy serve time too but wow...that's pretty harsh for a heat of the moment poor decision while in a stressful job situation.

  • grinninglibber

    Another thug in blue

  • TeXan1111

    The man will be released after 6 months in jail.
    The man was running away if you saw the video.

  • Bill Smith 999935

    Sounds about right.

  • DJ17

    Good to see a bad person held accountable. This ex-officer is a disgrace to the uniform.

  • 1SouthSide1

    Let this murdered sit in a cell with a picture of the man he killed hanging on the wall for at least 10 years.

  • MistaO

    This joke of a sentence recommendation, the case in Ohio this week where a white college student murdered his roommate over a cheeseburger and received a 5 year sentence and could be out in 6 months, and people have the nerve to suggest the judicial system is equitable! SMDH

    This trash flat out murdered Mr. Scott and should have a life sentence at minimum! If a black man shot someone 5 times in the back would this even be at issue? We all know that answer.

  • gpx21dlr

    Thank you judge. Justice served.