Group won’t pay Slager’s legal fees

Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager

A police advocacy group does not want to pay former North Charleston officer Michael Slager’s legal fees because shooting Walter Scott to death, planting evidence and lying were not in his job description, a court filing says.

Slager had been paying the Southern States Police Benevolent Association a $23.50 monthly fee for legal representation should he ever find himself fending off civil claims or criminal charges.

After Slager shot Scott on April 4, 2015, he hired an attorney through the association. But Charleston lawyer David Aylor dropped the client three days later when video showed Slager firing as Scott tried to run away, and the association refused to fund Slager’s defense any longer.

Slager sued in U.S. District Court, saying the group violated an insurance contract that promised unlimited legal aid if he were involved in a shooting. The association on Thursday asked a judge for “summary judgment,” an order that would end Slager’s claims before trial.

“Mr. Slager’s shooting an unarmed Mr. Scott five times in the back as he fled, planting the Taser behind Mr. Scott’s body, and lying to the PBA and (the State Law Enforcement Division) are intentional acts outside the scope of Mr. Slager’s duty as a police officer,” the association’s attorney, James Bradley of West Columbia, argued in the filing.

Slager filed a motion for summary judgment of his own, and his lawyer in the criminal cases against him has offered a different account of the killing.

U.S. District Judge David Norton is expected to take up motions in the lawsuit during a hearing at 2 p.m. Monday in downtown Charleston.

Scott fled from his Mercedes-Benz during a traffic stop after giving Slager inconsistent answers about his ownership of the car. The officer used a Taser hoping to stop the suspect, but it had little effect and the two got into a struggle.

A bystander started filming the scuffle with a cellphone. As they grappled, Slager has said, Scott grabbed his Taser and tried to use it against him. As Scott ran away again, the device fell to the ground, but it’s unclear whether Slager knew that. The officer fired eight times with Scott’s back turned to him, and five of the bullets hit the fleeing man. Slager picked up the Taser and dropped it near Scott’s body, but the officer fetched it seconds later and put it back into its holster.

He was arrested later on a murder charge. Slager argued in a motion Friday that the association terminated his legal coverage despite being “innocent of all charges until proven guilty.”

The former officer also was indicted in federal court on a civil rights charge, using a firearm in a violent crime and obstruction of justice. Authorities said he misled SLED agents who interviewed him by saying he shot Scott as the suspect came at him with a Taser.

His trial in state court is set for Oct. 31, but his federal court date has not been scheduled.

Charleston attorney Andy Savage has represented Slager for free in state court, and he was appointed as the former officer’s government-funded defense lawyer in the federal case.

Slager’s lawyers in the civil suit, Ronnie Richter of Charleston and Eric Bland of Columbia, alleged in the motion a “breach of (the association’s) contract of insurance, bad faith and unfair claim practices.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.