Today, the Justice Department announced that it had obtained an indictment against Michael Slager, the former police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina who shot and killed Walter Scott in April 2015 after a traffic stop. The shooting was captured on amateur cell phone video and appears to show Slager shooting Scott in the back as Scott was running away. Slager has claimed that the shooting was justified. See here, with the video. The indictment charges Slager with willful deprivation of rights under color of law, using a firearm during a crime of violence, and obstruction of justice (for allegedly lying to State investigators).
This case is especially interesting because South Carolina has already charged Slager in state court with murder. His state trial is set for October. The fact that the Feds decided to pursue the case, despite a pending state prosecution, shows the extent to which the DOJ is willing to set aside application of the Petite Policy on grounds that the federal government has an interest that is not demonstrably vindicated by even a state prosecution for murder. Though I do not know for sure what discussions have taken place at Main Justice on this case, I am willing to bet that the argument here is that there is a substantial federal interest in civil rights enforcement and that the state murder prosecution here would not vindicate it demonstrably. I have posted before on this matter (in the context of the Dylann Roof case in South Carolina) and discuss it further in a forthcoming article on hate crimes and the death penalty.
As for the death penalty and Slager, I do not see a strong case for it. I do not know yet whether this case has been submitted to the Capital Case Section for review, but under the existing death penalty protocol, I believe it probably should be, if it has not been: willful deprivation of rights resulting in death, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death, are both capital offenses. Still, this case should not detain the Criminal Division long: I do not think there is a strong case for the Government with respect to any of the statutory aggravators under 18 U.S.C. 3592(c). Similarly, South Carolina could not seek the death penalty because, as its death penalty statute is written, the State would not be able to prove any statutory aggravators under state law, either.