A former South Carolina police officer has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott. The sentence punctuates a controversial case that contributed to the national discussion over law enforcement officers shooting unarmed African Americans.
On Dec. 7, U.S. District Judge David Norton found that former North Charleston patrolman Michael T. Slager committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in relation to the death of Scott. Norton sentenced Slager to 20 years in prison.
Following the ruling, Scott's family held a press conference outside of the court.
"This is a historic day for civil rights, in particular for officer-involved shootings," said Chris Stewart, one of the family's lawyers, according to CNN.
In April 2015, Slager pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. Scott fled from his vehicle and Slager shot him five times from approximately 17 feet away. Slager told authorities that Scott attempted to wrest his stun gun away from him and that he opened fire to defend himself.
A bystander on the scene, Feidin Santana, later released cellphone footage that indicated Slager had instead placed his stun gun next to Scott's body after he shot him. The City of North Charleston fired the officer and paid Scott's family $6.5 million in restitution.
In 2016, Slager was tried for first-degree murder, but the case ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked. Prosecutors then argued that Slager had committed second-degree murder.
"As the defendant knew at that time from his law enforcement training, he was prohibited from using lethal force in this situation because using lethal force against an unarmed, nondangerous fleeing subject was a gross deviation from reasonable conduct," the prosecutors asserted in a memorandum, The New York Times reports.
Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights. Slager's defense lawyers urged Norton to sentence the officer via voluntary manslaughter instead of second-degree murder guidelines.
Before Norton issued his rulings, both Slager and Scott's family delivered final statements in the courtroom.
"Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I'm responsible for that," Slager said. "I'm standing here before you taking responsibility for that."
Scott's family said that Slager had apologized to them individually and that they forgave him.
"I miss my brother, and our family will never be the same," said Anthony Scott, the victim's brother. "Until I got the help I needed, it helped me to release the pain of losing my brother. God gave forgiveness in my heart for Officer Slager."
Judy Scott, the victim's mother, brought Slager to tears when she directly addressed him in the courtroom, NBC News reports.
"I forgive you," the mother said.