Attorneys on both sides of Michael Slager’s upcoming civil rights trial filed a series of motions Friday aimed at framing the arguments that will be made in federal court this spring.
The flurry of activity represents efforts by federal prosecutors and Slager’s defense team to limit what evidence each side can introduce in the lead-up to the civil rights case, which could start as early as May 1.
It also indicates that the federal trial for the former North Charleston police officer will move forward. Friday’s motions were the first filed by the U.S. Department of Justice since President Donald Trump took office last month.
Trump’s administration had previously been mum on Slager’s case, raising doubts about whether his Justice Department would continue to pursue the charges. The questions first came up shortly after the election, when Vice President Mike Pence was noncommittal about the case’s future.
Focus has shifted to the proceedings in federal court since the state’s murder trial against Slager ended in a mistrial. The state has moved forward with a new trial, but the federal trial is expected to come first.
In federal court, Slager is charged with violating Walter Scott’s rights under the color of law, lying to investigators and using a firearm in a violent crime. Judge David Norton is overseeing the case.
Defense attorney Andy Savage moved first to suppress statements Slager made in the days after he shot and killed Scott, arguing that State Law Enforcement Division agents misled his former lawyer when he asked if they had video of the shooting.
The patrolman stopped Scott, 50, for a broken brake light. After Scott ran, Slager tried to subdue him with a Taser. But the two fought over the stun gun, Slager said. The officer said Scott grabbed the device and turned it against him, drawing his gunfire. A bystander’s video showed Scott running away as Slager fired eight times, propelling the case into the national spotlight.
“SLED agents actively worked to deceive the attorney of a person under investigation,” Savage wrote in his motion. “This deliberate withholding of relevant evidence persuaded (Charleston attorney David) Aylor to direct Slager to give a statement to the SLED investigators.”
A spokesman for SLED couldn’t be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors filed a series of motions seeking to limit what kinds of arguments Slager’s defense team can make.
Prosecutors asked the judge to limit evidence about Slager’s character traits and working conditions at the North Charleston Police Department, arguing that they weren’t relevant to the case. They also asked Judge Norton to keep defense attorneys from making certain kinds of references in their arguments, like mentioning other police shootings or officers killed in the line of duty.
Attempts to reach the prosecution and Savage on Friday weren’t immediately successful.