Former North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights by shooting the fleeing black man five times — a sudden shift after insisting for two years he had gunned down Scott in self-defense, reports the Charleston Post and Courier. Slager reached the agreement with prosecutors a week before a jury was scheduled to be selected for his trial in federal court. Under the “global” plea deal, state authorities dropped a separate state murder charge. Two other federal counts of lying to investigators and using a firearm in a violent crime also will be dismissed.
Though a sentence was not agreed upon, the plea eliminates the unpredictability of a jury trial and will place Slager’s punishment squarely in the hands of a judge. The charge — deprivation of rights under the color of law–carries as little as no prison time and as much as life behind bars. Scott’s loved ones and their attorneys praised the occasion as a rare felony conviction that never came in countless other police shootings nationwide. The April 2015 shooting following a traffic stop for a minor violation was captured by a bystander on shocking video that spread worldwide. It showed Slager firing repeatedly as Scott ran from him before collapsing the ground. North Charleston paid $6.5 million to Scott’s family.