The former North Charleston police officer Michael Butcher, testifies during the murder trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, S. C.
A white former South Carolina agent was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday fatal shooting of an unarmed black motorist in the back in 2015, wrapping up a case that became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Lawyers of ex-North Charleston Officer Michael Butcher said he shot 50-year-old Walter Scott in self-defense after the two fought, and Scott reached for the Butcher the stun gun. She said race does not play a role in the recording and that the Butcher had never been a “racial animus” in the direction of minorities.
Still, Butcher pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Scott’s civil rights. As part of the plea agreement reached in May, prosecutors dropped state murder charges. A year ago, a state judge declared a mistrial when jurors deadlocked.
“This is a tragedy that should not happen,” U. S. District Judge David Norton said.
A bystander recorded the shooting on a mobile phone, and it was shared all over the world, setting off the protests in the U.S., as protesters said it was another shining example of police officers’ abuse of African-Americans.
Scott’s family testified in front of the sentence and said that she had forgiven Butcher.
“I’m not angry with you, Michael. Michael, I forgive you, and Michael, I pray now for you and for your family, because we have gone through a traumatic time,” he said.
The shooting angry local African-Americans who complained for years that the North Charleston police harass blacks, pulling them about or ask them unnecessary if they cracked down on crime. The Scott family successfully pleaded for calm, asking everyone to let justice run its course.
Two months after the shooting, a young white man killed nine black members of the church in a racially attacked during a bible study in Charleston. The family members of the church shooting victims struck a similar forgiveness show after that attack.
Before the sentenced was handed down, the court had to decide whether the recording was in the second-degree murder or manslaughter. Norton found that the murder was.
The bystander, the video starts after the fight between the Butcher and Scott and ordered Scott to walk and the officer fired eight times. Scott was a hit in the back five times.
After the recording, the Butcher picked up his stun gun and placed it next to Scott. Butcher suggests he was securing the weapon. Prosecutors think that he put it there for the strengthening of his self-defense story.
An emotional Butcher told Scott’s family that he was grateful for their forgiveness.
“This tragic event that occurred in seconds, has changed the lives of everyone involved,” he said. “With my actions on that day, Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I am responsible for.”
The court also found that Butcher, 36, obstructed justice when he made the financial statements of the federal police after the shooting.
A pre-sentencing report for Butcher found that he committed manslaughter and recommended a 10 to nearly 13 years in prison. But the court is not bound by that decision.
If Butcher had faced a other state, trial and condemned for murder, he would have been sentenced to somewhere between 30 years to life in prison.
Convictions in police officer shots are rare in the US, and the jail time is even rarer.
South Carolina has been aggressive in the charge white officers who shoot unarmed black people. Four pleaded guilty in state or federal court in the past six years. But only the Butcher and the former state trooper Sean Groubert, who shot a man as he tried to take his wallet during a seat belt violation check, was sent to prison. Groubert was sentenced to five years behind bars.