Jury selection is underway for the murder trial of former South Carolina cop Michael Slager, who shot and killed unarmed motorist Walter Scott during a traffic stop in early April 2015 in what prosecutors have alleged is murder, PEOPLE confirms.
On Monday, potential jurors began being interviewed in a Charleston, South Carolina, court room as Slager’s attorneys recently sought either a dismissal of the entire case or an alternate venue for the 34-year-old’s impending trial, a court official tells PEOPLE.
Slager is charged with murder for repeatedly shooting Scott, 50, in the back as Scott ran away from him following a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 4, 2015.
A bystander recorded part of the incident on video, and the release of the footage — which contradicted how authorities had described the altercation in the immediate aftermath — sparked outrage and spurred further protests about the use of force by police officers against African-Americans.
Slager was fired by the North Charleston Police Department soon after the video of the shooting was made public. His police chief said he was “sickened” by the footage.
Prior to his arrest, Slager claimed he was acting in self-defense, and his defense team has alleged that Scott was reaching for Slager’s Taser in some kind of attack before he turned and fled.
Scott was shot multiple times, according to the medical examiner.
L. Chris Stewart, lead attorney for Scott’s family, tells PEOPLE his clients will be in court on Wednesday, once a jury has been settled on.
Stewart says he is warning the family the trial will be tough to handle at times.
“I’m advising them not to be shocked or surprised or upset by anything they hear, and that they will hear some of the most ludicrous and desperate excuses from Slager and his team,” Stewart says. “I expect this to be one of the most ludicrous defenses ever.”
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Slager has also been indicted on federal charges, including violating civil rights laws, obstruction of justice and using a firearm while committing an act of violence. He has pleaded not guilty in that case as well.
Defense Seeks Dismissal Based on Double Jeopardy: Report
Among several motions recently filed by Slager’s defense attorneys is a request dated Monday — the start date for jury selection — for a dismissal of his criminal charges, according to court records.
Citing double jeopardy, Slager’s lawyers claim the “politically motivated” murder prosecution is a “double-teaming” against Slager by state and federal prosecutors, according to the Post & Courier. (The state has not yet presented an argument in response.)
Among other motions is a request that Scott not be referred to as a “victim” at any point during Slager’s trial.
His attorneys are also seeking to move the trial, alleging North Charleston’s residents are unduly influenced by a “toxic stew of half-truths, misperceptions and false narratives,” according to CNN. Another motion indicates the defense intends to bring jurors to the scene of Scott’s death.
It was not immediately clear when there will be rulings on these motions.
Last week, one of Slager’s lawyer, Andy Savage, spoke to WCBD in Charleston and said his defense team has “thoroughly examined” the cellphone video of Scott’s death — which Savage alleged contains “distortion.”
Savage would not expand on that accusation, but he repeated his client’s claim that lethal force was employed because Scott tried taking Slager’s Taser. Savage argued that that Slager’s “hands were tied up” when he tried to call for help.
“Mr. Scott’s hands were not [tied up],” he told the station. “That’s when we believe the Taser was removed and used against him.” (Slager’s defense team did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
Savage also said that he doesn’t “think Scott can wear a badge of victim,” and that he feels “jurors will understand that what was in Michael Slager’s mind [at the time of the killing] was due to the actions of Mr. Scott — not the actions of Mr. Slager.”
When asked about the defense’s claims that the video was doctored, Stewart tells PEOPLE: “His defense team had to come up with something, even if it’s not accurate — he pleaded not guilty.”
Stewart says Scott’s relatives are hoping for a guilty verdict, believing it will resonate nationwide and send the message to everyone with a badge that “they are accountable for their actions.”
Stewart wouldn’t speculate on which way the verdict might go.
“This is one of the rare cases where even people who are on the extreme of never believing an officer can do wrong and ‘every shooting is justified,’ they think this guy was caught red-handed and needs to be in jail,” he says.
“It’s painful,” Scott’s older brother, Anthony Scott, previously told PEOPLE of the shooting’s aftermath. “We miss him every day.”
“We’re never going to forget Walter,” Anthony said. “We’re never going to forget what happened, but knowing that this man [would be] in prison serving time for what he did, that would most certainly help.”