COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Attorneys for an imprisoned former policeman want a federal appellate court to reconsider its ruling upholding his conviction and 20-year sentence for killing an unarmed motorist who was running away from a traffic stop in South Carolina.
Lawyers for Michael Slager argue that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "overlooked material facts" when it ruled this month that a trial judge "committed no reversible error" in his 2017 sentencing of Slager, who pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation in the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott.
In the recent request for a rehearing, Slager attorney Elizabeth Franklin-Best says U.S. District Judge David Norton should have given more weight to Slager's testimony that he was "deeply fearful" while struggling with Scott over his stun gun, and that "his actions were not motivated by malice."
Scott had broken away from the white North Charleston police officer and was running away when Slager fired eight bullets from his service weapon, striking the 50-year-old black man five times in the back of his body. The shooting, captured on a bystander's cellphone and shared around the world, was seen by many as an example of police officers mistreating African-Americans, and the case became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Slager's lawyer argued that the officer acted in self-defense and got carried away, but never had any "racial animus" toward minorities. Still, Slager pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Scott's civil rights. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop state murder charges that still lingered after a first state proceeding ended in a mistrial when a jury couldn't agree whether he had committed a crime.
In asking for reconsideration, Franklin-Best also wrote that the appellate court also didn't address Slager's claim that Norton had been wrong to consult his own wife, a forensic pathologist, while looking over Scott's autopsy, "without providing notice to the defense."
Slager is one of only a few police officers to go to prison for a fatal shooting, and his sentence was the stiffest since the shootings came under scrutiny in recent years.
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.