South Carolina police officer Michael Slager was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in the fatal shooting of Walter Scott.
The Department of Justice issued a statement that says 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.
The April 4, 2015 shooting, which was captured on film by a bystander, shows Scott, a black man, running away on foot from Slager, who is white. Scott was unarmed.
The former North Charleston police officer initially pulled over Scott for having a broken tail light on his car. As Scott attempted to run away, he fired five shots from behind. Scott was a 50-year-old Navy veteran and father of four.
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 indictment by a state court. The Post and Courier explains:
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."
"It is time that the cover was pulled and I thank God that my son was the one that was used to pull the cover off all of the violence and the cover-ups that have been going on," said Judy Scott, the victim's mother. "I'm happy for that but I'm sad my son is gone."
"Justice will prevail," she added.
"If this can be the turning point, where the Justice Department is going to step in and help these families," Stewart added, "then this is a great day."
Slager remains free on $500,000 state bail.