Back in 2015, a black unarmed motorist named Walter Scott was stopped by a then North Charleston, South Carolina police officer named Michael Slager. A few moments later, Scott was gunned down by Slager as he ran away from the officer. Despite claiming the shots to the back of Scott were self-defense, Slager pled guilty to a federal charge of violating Scott's civil rights in May. Today, a judge handed down his punishment and it will land Slager in federal prison for 20 years.
The 20-year sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge David Norton despite a pre-sentencing report for Slager found that he committed manslaughter and recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison. But the judge was not bound by that review. Before Slager's sentence was handed down, the judge had to decide whether the shooting amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter. Norton determined that the actions were worthy of a charge of second-degree murder and he also added obstruction of justice to the list when considering the sentence.
Slager has several weeks to appeal his sentence and will be housed at the Charleston County jail until he's assigned to a federal prison.
After the sentencing, Judy Scott and Walter's two brothers told reporters that, while they had made peace with the case, they remained adamant the officer should pay for his crime.
"Who are we not to forgive?" Rodney Scott said.
Convictions in police officer shootings are uncommon in the U.S. and prison time is even rarer.
South Carolina has been aggressive in charging white officers who shoot unarmed black people. Four have pleaded guilty in state or federal court in the past six years. But only Slager and former state trooper Sean Groubert, who shot a man as he tried to get his wallet during a seat belt violation check, will have been sent to prison. Groubert was sentenced to five years behind bars.