From solitary to house arrest: South Carolina cop released on bail

Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager's fatal shooting of Walter Scott, as Mr. Scott fled from a traffic stop, is one of many cases fueling debate on police officers' use of lethal force, particularly against black men. 

Brad Nettles/The Post and Courier/AP
Former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager speaks in court in Charleston, S.C., on Monday. On Monday, state Judge Clifton Newman approved bail for the former officer, who is charged with fatally shooting Walter Scott on April 4, after he fled from a traffic stop.

The former South Carolina police officer who fatally shot at a black driver eight times as he fled a traffic stop last April has been released on $500,000 bail to await his October 2016 trial. 

Michael Slager will be under house arrest, and is under orders not to contact the family of Walter Scott, who was 50 when he died on April 4. Video captured on a bystander's cellphone helped the case gain national attention, part of a wave of debate around police officers' use of lethal force, particularly in black communities.

"The family is not happy about Mr. Slager getting bond," family attorney Justin Bamberg told the Associated Press after Circuit Judge Clifton Newman approved Slager's request to be released. Mr. Bamberg added, "This is just another step in the criminal justice process, and the family believes at the end of the day that justice will prevail."

In October, Mr. Scott's family agreed to a $6.5 million settlement with the city of North Charleston, avoiding a lawsuit and helping to provide for his four children. At the time of his death, Scott was $18,000 behind in child support payments, according to court documents, leading to a warrant for his arrest. Family members alleged that Scott had run from the traffic stop over fears of returning to jail, according to Charleston's Post and Courier. 

In December, when the family asked a judge to approve the settlement, city attorney Brady Hair praised both sides, and the city's residents, for quickly and peacefully reaching an agreement.

"If you compare what happened in other cities, such as Baltimore, Ferguson and now Chicago, there is no doubt that the manner the Scott case was handled was a victory for the city of North Charleston, the Scott family and the state of South Carolina," Mr. Hair said. "No brick was thrown, no building was burned and no violence occurred in the city after this event."

But Slager's trial has been delayed until next fall, after prosecutor Scarlett Wilson was also assigned the case of Dylann Roof, who fatally shot nine black worshippers in Charleston on June 17. That trial is scheduled to begin in July.

Slager was fired from the North Charleston police and arrested in April after bystander video discredited his official account that Scott had threatened him with a Taser. Until his release on Monday, he had been held in solitary confinement and allowed out of his cell for one hour each day. A motion filed by his defense alleged that the Charleston County Detention Center has been listening in on his calls and intercepting his mail, which has "acutely constrained" his defense.

His attorneys have also argued that Slager's health needs were not provided for in prison. He has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, and has reportedly lost 25 pounds in jail.

An initial bond request was rejected in September, when Judge Newman said Slager posed a threat to the community. 

But Scott's family opposed the release. "If we let him out, he's going to go home to see his wife and children. All I can look at is a pot of flowers" in the cemetery, said Scott's father, also named Walter. 

Video from Slager's dashboard camera shows Scott fleeing after being pulled over for a broken tail light. According to Slager, Scott tried to grab his taser, then took off on foot. According to NBC, court documents allege that Scott's DNA was found on the taser. Slager's lawyer, Andy Savage, told the network that Scott had fired the weapon twice.

Bystander video captured Slager catching up with Scott and shooting at him eight times as he fled. Slager has said he feared that Scott, who was unarmed and died at the scene, had a gun. 

If convicted, he faces 30 years to life. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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