A federal grand jury has indicted former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager for the fatal shooting of Walter Scott.
A statement issued Wednesday from the Department of Justice says that the three-count indictment includes charges for a federal civil rights offense for the shooting, excessive force without legal justification, and obstruction of justice for making false statements to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators.
Slager, who is white, initially pulled over Scott, who is black, for having a broken tail light on his car. As Scott attempted to run away, the North Charleston officer shot the unarmed 50-year-old Navy veteran and father of four five times from behind.
A conviction on the charges mean a potential $250,000 fine and a maximum sentence of a life behind bars. The 34-year-old already faces an and indictment by a state court. The Post and Courier explains:
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The new charges could serve as a backstop if the state’s case against Slager were to fail. Putting him on trial in both state and federal courts for the same shooting would not be double jeopardy because the jurisdictions are considered sovereign.
"This is history in so many ways," said L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for Scott's family, according to CNN. "This never happens," he said of the indictment, citing cases like those of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.
Indeed, as the Post and Courier reports, "The indictment makes the case one of the few high-profile American police killings in recent years to result in a federal criminal charge."
"If this can be the turning point, where the Justice Department is going to step in and help these families," Steward added, "then this is a great day."
Slager remains free on $500,000 state bail.