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May 8, 2021

With civil rights charges, Justice Dept. signals priorities
By Michael Balsamo and Amy Forliti

Usually, federal prosecutors hold off on any charges until local investigations are completed. But when they do, itís often seen a safety net against the difficulty of prosecuting law enforcement locally. According to a person familiar with the investigation, that happened during the case against former officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. In 2015, Slager shot to death Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man who ran from a traffic stop. Local prosecutors worried they could not win a conviction, this person said, so federal prosecutors stepped in and brought charges, working out a plea deal to resolve both the federal and state cases. Slager was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss those internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity. The federal charge is limited in its scope and has been rarely used. According to Syracuse Universityís Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, federal prosecutors have used it an average of 41 times a year between 1990 and 2019.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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