CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Cell phone video of a white South Carolina police officer shooting an unarmed black man in the back will be allowed as evidence at the former patrolman’s upcoming federal trial, a judge ruled at a hearing on Friday.
Michael Slager, 35, could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty of violating motorist Walter Scott’s civil rights in the April 2015 fatal shooting in North Charleston. Slager’s federal trial is set for May in Charleston.
Slager fired eight times at Scott’s back, hitting him five times, after the motorist fled a traffic stop for a broken brake light.
Defense lawyers had argued in court that jurors should not be allowed to view a witness’ video of the incident because it was blurry, misleading and an incomplete record of the event.
The video of a struggle between the officer and Scott, 50, for control of Slager’s Taser was brief and shaky, defense lawyer Donald McCune said.
That scuffle was a key focus of Slager’s defense during his trial on a murder charge in state court last fall, with his lawyers arguing he had feared for his life. The trial ended with a hung jury.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Fishman said on Friday the video offered objective proof of Slager shooting an unarmed person who was running away.
“You don’t exclude evidence because it’s not complete,” Fishman said.
U.S. District Judge David Norton said prosecutors could play the video and show it in slow motion at the trial, despite defense objections about creating an unfair perception of Slager.
“You don’t get to try their case, and they don’t get to try yours,” Norton told defense lawyers.
Slager also is charged with using a gun while committing the civil rights offense and obstructing justice by intentionally misleading state investigators after the shooting.
He is scheduled to be re-tried on the murder charge in August.
Defense lawyer Andy Savage has argued prosecutors bowed to political pressure when they opted to charge Slager amid concerns about the use of force against minorities by police in cities across the United States.
Prosecutors said the administration of President Donald Trump supports the federal case against Slager, who was indicted during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“Mr. Savage knows that two administrations fully support this prosecution,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Klumb said. “Political consideration was not a part of those decisions.”
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker)