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Prosecutors want Walter Scott's background off limits in federal trial for Michael Slager

Michael Slager

Justice department attorneys don’t want details about Walter Scott’s background brought up in the upcoming federal civil rights trial for ex-North Charleston Police officer Michael Slager.

Federal prosecutors on Friday filed a motion asking a judge not to allow details about Scott’s criminal history, unpaid child support, drug use or other “misconduct” to be admitted as evidence in the trial, calling it all “prejudicial” information that could unfairly influence the jury.

Prosecutors argue details about Scott’s background are irrelevant to the case against Scott. Further, prosecutors argue the information shouldn’t be allowed in testimony because of strict previously established rules on the use of character evidence during trials.

Slager’s federal trial is set to begin May 15 in Charleston. He is charged with depriving Scott of his civil rights under the color of law, using a weapon during a violent crime, and obstruction of justice.

Slager shot Scott in North Charleston in May 2015 following a traffic stop for a broken taillight. Scott ran away from the scene shortly after the stop. Slager gave chase, and the two men eventually wound up in a struggle.

A bystander videoed Slager shooting Scott multiple times as Scott again tried to run away following the altercation. Slager claims Scott took his Taser during the fight and tried to use it against him. Slager says he shot Scott in self-defense because he feared for his life.

The day Slager stopped Scott, there was a warrant out for Scott’s arrest because he owed $18,000 in delinquent child support payments.

Additionally, a background check would’ve shown Scott as having “violent tendencies” and possibly being “armed and dangerous.” The listings stemmed from a 1991 assault and battery conviction.

Court records also show Scott had a history of cocaine use. An autopsy even revealed Scott had cocaine in his system at the time of his death. Records also show Scott may have fraudulently taken food from a food bank the morning of his death.

Prosecutors said in Friday’s filing that during Slager’s state trial late last year, Slager’s attorneys repeatedly brought up Scott’s background despite having been ordered not to.

Slager’s defense attorney, Andy Savage, argues in a response also filed Friday that information about Scott’s background is relevant and should be allowed because it could explain why Scott behaved the way he did during the traffic stop.

However, prosecutors said in their filing Slager did not and could not have known about any of those things, as Slager had never encountered Scott before, and had left his vehicle to chase Scott before a background check could be completed.

Therefore, prosecutors argue Scott’s background played no role in Slager’s actions, and Savage shouldn’t be allowed to bring them up in his defense of Slager.

In addition to details about Scott’s background, prosecutors also want contents of Scott’s cell phone not to be allowed as evidence in the trial. Prosecutors have also asked Savage to hand over the contents of Scott’s phone to them.

Savage in his response Friday said prosecutors had ample opportunity to access the phone in the past, and didn’t, so he will not “work on their behalf” by giving them the evidence now.

Savage said he has not decided yet if he will use what’s on Scott’s cell phone as evidence in the case, but argues it should be allowed because it also may provide insight into Scott’s behavior the day of the shooting.

Slager was in court Friday morning for a hearing to discuss previous motions made leading up to the case, and is expected back in court Monday for another hearing.

In March, the judge in the case ruled video of Slager shooting Scott recorded on bystander Feidin Santana’s phone will be allowed as evidence in the case. Savage had filed a motion asking to have it excluded.

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