COLUMBIA, S.C. – A white former police officer serving 20 years in prison for killing an unarmed Black man in South Carolina who ran from a traffic stop said his lawyer never told him about a plea offer from prosecutors that could have cut years off his sentence.
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager is requesting a new sentence in federal court this week, saying he would have taken the deal and that his lawyer was grossly incompetent for not telling him about it.
Andy Savage is one of South Carolina's most accomplished attorneys and at the time was also representing a Black church member whose life was spared in a racist massacre that killed nine people in a Charleston church in 2015, two months after Slager’s arrest.
Prosecutors said Savage's mistake didn't rise above the very high bar of tossing out Slager's sentence and added that the attorney's defense was excellent in almost every other way. Slager's sentence is one of the longest given for an on-duty shooting in recent years.
Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge in 2017 for shooting Walter Scott in the back five times on April 4, 2015. Slager had pulled over the 50-year-old Black motorist for a broken brake light when their confrontation was captured on a bystander's cellphone video that later spread worldwide on social media.
In the encounter, the two could be seen tumbling to the ground after Slager hit Scott with a Taser. Authorities said their investigation found Scott got back up and was shot five times in the back from a distance of about 15 feet (5 meters) as he ran from the officer.
The shooting itself was captured on video, something Slager didn't know when he initially told investigators that Scott had charged at him after stealing his Taser.
Slager's new lawyers aren't questioning his guilt, just a sentence that according to federal prison records will keep him behind bars until 2033.