SOUTH CAROLINA — Both sides in the case of Walter Scott described what happened Monday as a single step in a long march.
A grand jury indicted former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on a murder charge in connection to the April shooting death.
Scott was shot by Slager in the back as he was running away. His death was recorded by a bystander, and the graphic footage sparked outrage and reignited a national conversation around race and policing.
Scott was black; Slager is white.
“Today was just an example that if you just keep the faith, even in the darkest times, you’ll see the light,” Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Scott family, said after news of the indictment broke. “But this is just step one.”
Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage, said his defense team has not yet been given prosecutors’ investigative materials, as requested, and would not comment on “any aspect” of the case until he has that information.
If convicted of murder, the former officer could face up to life in prison.
“The grand jury is a formal step, but just another step in the criminal process,” Savage said.
On April 4, Slager pulled Scott over, reportedly for a broken brake light. Dash cam video from that stop shows the two men talking before Scott gets out of the car and runs. Slager gives chase.
They run out of range of the dash cam, but the bystander’s video picks up the fatal encounter. There are moments in between that were not captured.
Slager told investigators Scott did not comply with his demands and tried to grab his stun gun. The cell phone video shows what appeared to be a quick scuffle.
Scott then runs away from Slager, who raises his gun and fires eight times, striking Scott, who was unarmed. He died at the scene.
Next step: Trial
Scott’s death echoed against the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer in August. A grand jury declined to indict in that case.
It’s also unfolding against the broader backdrop of national protests over the deaths of other black men, including Eric Garner in New York and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
“Certainly this case has gotten a lot of publicly, but the issue is not whether or not someone has heard about this case,” said South Carolina prosecutor Scarlett Wilson, who announced the indictment Monday.
She was talking about prospective jurors in the trial of former officer Slager. A start date has not yet been set.
“The issue is whether or not they can put everything they’ve heard aside, and make a decision based on the facts and the evidence that are presented in court,” Wilson said. “I feel sure the people of Charleston County can decide it.”