Several people have requested thoughts and analysis on the decision by South Carolina (former) Police Officer Michael Slager to plead guilty to civil rights violations.
From the outset this case was unique, stunningly so. Our research into this case was necessarily fact-driven because any emotional review of the shooting is fraught with over simplistic reaction. This is one of those cases where logic battles with emotion and the outcome, as it stands today, is even more evidence toward that end.
Michael Slager pleading guilty to federal charges against the State’s inability to gain any criminal charges shows how the dynamic of law can run parallel to justice but not necessarily merge. This is the framework for my perspective on this case.
It’s important to note what Slager’s plea isn’t. There is no admission of violation of statutory state law. Slager is not pleading guilty to any form of manslaughter, and most certainly isn’t guilty of level of statutory murder. The unusual nature of this dynamic is why the State of South Carolina has withdrawn any/all criminal charges now that Slager has plead guilty to a federal violation of Scott’s civil rights.
There is a lot about this case where the dynamics of justice have failed on both sides. The fact that the case was highly-charged politically created part of the issue. From the media’s perspective the trial jury was “hung” and a mistrial was declared; but that’s not the real story.
The trial jury were hung on the ‘voluntary manslaughter’ (lesser charge), not the murder charge. Oddly the failure of the defense team to demand a polling of the jury on the manslaughter charge to drive home that aspect, and the political decision by Judge Clifton Newman not to draw that distinction on his own, must have ultimately contributed to the decision today.
The State overcharged Slager to appease a political mob. There was no way, with the facts sure to come out in court, that a murder conviction was ever possible. Every intellectually honest person knew that; and that’s what the jury also confirmed.
Yes, Slager shot and killed Walter Scott. However, there was less than 1.5 seconds between the end of Walter Scott’s two minute physical fight with Slager and the first shot from Slager’s pistol. Ultimately the question becomes was the shooting legal?
The answer to that question is yes, and no. Yes, under the SC legal statutes the action Slager took was legal in all aspects. However, it is also true that Slager’s less than 1.5 second decision to shoot a felon fleeing custody, in the back, after an almost 2 minute physical struggle, multiple times, was not a good decision.
If the jury had stated in court they were hung on the ‘voluntary manslaughter’ aspect, the federal civil rights violation charges would have frozen, perhaps disappeared. The State and Feds were lucky Judge Newman didn’t poll the jury. If Solicitor General Scarlett Wilson re-tried the case for just ‘voluntary manslaughter’, the result could go either way. If not guilty, well, how can an officer act lawfully, and still be in violation of law.
The family of Walter Scott already received a payout over $6 million. Michael Slager is not admitting to violation of any state law. The state is dropping all charges. Slager has entered a deal to plea guilty to federal civil rights charges.
Weird, but not necessarily unexpected.
The Trump Justice Department did not, as was once rumored, actually dismiss the federal case. But it does seem to have engineered a deal that includes the dropping of state charges. Federal judge David C. Norton, a George W. Bush appointee, could sentence Slager to 20 years in prison, but he could also sentence him to no prison time at all—and should: Slager has already spent a savage eight months in solitary confinement, not allowed to hold or even see his first son, born during his incarceration.
It’s very hard to tell from reading the Main Stream Media, but lead defense attorney Andy Savage actually used the argument developed by The Conservative Treehouse/ Last Refuge website that Scott had shot Office Slager with his own taser before fleeing—totally discrediting the Unprovoked-Atrocity-By-Brutal-Cop Narrative that took in even American Renaissance’s famously finicky Jared Taylor.[Officer Michael Slager, White Man, April 9, 2015] (read more)
Michael Slager has already spent more than a year-and-a-half in jail before trial. Eight months of the time in jail was in solitary confinement. Sentencing on the civil rights plea should be interesting.