If Michael Slager cannot have the speedy trial he wants, the former North Charleston police officer should get another chance to post bail, his defense team said Monday in a court motion.
A judge in September denied bail for the white 34-year-old charged with murder in the April 4 shooting death of Walter Scott, a black man. He ruled that Slager’s release could pose a danger to the community.
Noting that Slager has been jailed in isolation for eight months since his arrest, his defense team last week asked Circuit Judge Clifton Newman to set his trial for the spring.
But prosecutors said they probably won’t be ready until November because they will be trying Dylann Roof, who faces the death penalty in the June shooting that killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church.
The scheduling conflict prompted the second bail motion from Slager’s attorneys, who conceded that an earlier trial appears unlikely. But Slager’s health problems and trouble he’s having getting ready for trial would make it unfair for him to stay in jail longer, the motion indicated.
Allowed outside his cell for an hour every day, his attorneys said, Slager “has grown increasingly anxious and concerned about his fate.”
They asked Newman to reconsider bail and set a hearing about the issue.
Scott’s shooting, which was captured in a bystander’s cellphone video, renewed long-held criticisms of North Charleston police tactics and added to a drumbeat of scrutiny on the use of force by officers nationwide. The city later reached a $6.5 million settlement with Scott’s family.
Attorneys for the family, Justin Bamberg and Chris Stewart, said in a joint statement Monday that they would await the judge’s decisions on bail and the trial date.
Signed by defense lawyer Cameron Blazer of the Savage Law Firm, the filing mentioned that Slager has been a focus of a ramped-up surveillance program at the jail. While officials insist that the effort to intercept telephone calls and mail is meant to root out threats involving the high-profile inmate, the motion called it “completely divorced from any (jail) safety concern.” Jail officers routinely listen to Slager’s personal conversations, the filing stated.
The lack of privacy has “acutely constrained” Slager’s ability to prepare for trial, Blazer wrote.
Slager also has fallen ill and lost 25 pounds, the attorneys said. Past filings noted that he has celiac disease, causing him to react negatively to gluten. He often faces the “unacceptable choice ... of being either hungry or sick” because the jail cannot completely accommodate his diet, the motion stated.
While the latest bail motion focuses on his personal condition and concerns about his trial preparation, the first bid centered on evidence in the shooting. It culminated in an hours-long hearing in September that hinted at the fight likely to play out when the case is tried.
Hoping to expose cracks in the murder case, his attorneys presented evidence they said showed Slager had been beaten in a struggle over a Taser before he fired eight times.
But prosecutors used the bystander’s video footage, which showed Slager shooting Scott in the back as Scott ran from a traffic stop, to paint the former officer as an executioner who tried to plant evidence and concoct a story of self-defense.
Newman denied bail after “careful consideration of all of the evidence,” he wrote in an order.
More recently, though, the judge has expressed concern for Slager’s right to a speedy trial. In last week’s hearing, he said the constitutional provision is “partially enhanced when the defendant is incarcerated.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.