CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A white former police officer accused of fatally shooting a black man in the back as he ran from a traffic stop in South Carolina was indicted by a grand jury on a murder charge on Monday, a prosecutor said.
Michael Slager, 33, was fired from his patrolman job in North Charleston after being charged with murder in the April 4 death of Walter Scott, 50.
Video of the shooting captured by a bystander on his cellphone was widely distributed, and the death reignited a public outcry over police treatment of African Americans that flared last year after killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere.
Scott’s shooting prompted calls for police reform in South Carolina’s third-largest city, but did not spark the riots and looting experienced in other U.S. cities where protesters clashed with law enforcement following such deaths.
The video evidence alone will not guarantee a conviction, said Scarlett Wilson, solicitor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. Witness testimony also will be important, she said.
“Just because you have video in this case, it doesn’t mean it’s the be-all and end-all,” she told a news conference.
If convicted of murder, Slager would face between 30 years and life in prison without the possibility of parole. No trial date has been set, Wilson said.
A lawyer for Scott’s family, Chris Stewart, said he expects to file a suit in the next few months. He said Slager should have been reprimanded for prior accusations of excessive force before the run-in with Scott.
“This is just step one,” Stewart said of the indictment, which was praised by Scott’s family. “This entire situation never should have occurred with Officer Slager.”
Scott was driving a black Mercedes-Benz when Slager pulled him over for a broken tail light. Video from the dashboard camera in Slager’s cruiser recorded a respectful exchange before the officer returned to his car.
A few minutes later, after Slager had told him to stay in the Mercedes, Scott emerged and ran off, apparently unarmed.
The subsequent cell phone video showed the men in a brief tussle before Scott ran again, Slager fired his handgun eight times and Scott slumped into the grass. There was a gap between the two videos.
Slager has said he feared for his life when he shot Scott.
The ex-officer’s attorney, Andrew Savage III, said on Monday his team was still waiting to receive the state’s investigative materials.
“Until we have an opportunity to fully evaluate the state’s case and to compare it with our own investigation we will not be commenting on any aspect of the case,” he said.
Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by David Gregorio, James Dalgleish and Alan Crosby