During Michael Slager trial, prosecutors dropped North Charleston police charge against jury foreman
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The jury foreman who said he wanted to convict Michael Slager had a felony charge by North Charleston police that was dropped by prosecutors during the former officer's murder trial.
Dorsey Montgomery, 34, was picked for the jury despite his 2014 traffic stop and arrest by the North Charleston Police Department, the agency where Slager worked.
It’s not known if the breach-of-trust charge was discussed during the jury selection process, as the presiding judge on Slager’s case barred the public from attending those early proceedings.
After the trial in Walter Scott's shooting death ended with a hung jury, members of the public posed further questions about how a jury with only one black member, Montgomery, was chosen for a case with racial undertones. If Slager had been convicted, some with opposite views of the case likely would have raised more questions in light of Montgomery's past.
Montgomery also was the only juror who indicated during selection that he had not known about the case or watched an eyewitness video of the white officer firing eight times as Scott, a black man, ran away.
“Jury selection is open to the public because it’s a public trial,” Charleston attorney Steve Schmutz said. “Sometimes judges close part of a trial after balancing the interest of the public with whatever issue they have.”
It is not known why Circuit Judge Clifton Newman closed more than half the proceeding in Slager’s trial. He permitted news reporters to attend its conclusion after The Post and Courier and other news media expressed concerns.
None of the lawyers involved in the case objected to Montgomery serving, though defense lawyer Andy Savage said the limited questioning of prospective jurors' histories would have been grounds for an appeal. Savage said, though, that he had known about Montgomery’s past, but he did not opt to exclude Montgomery from the panel.
Then, nearly three weeks into the trial, a prosecutor in 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson’s office dropped Montgomery’s charge without Wilson’s knowledge, she said. On the same day, the judge appointed Montgomery as foreman.
"I’m a big boy," Montgomery said in a brief telephone interview Thursday. "Whatever transpired transpired. What happened happened. Whatever was done was done."
He and his defense lawyer, Allen Mastantuno of Charleston, declined to comment further.
Montgomery appeared on NBC earlier in the day and said the jury had focused on a manslaughter charge after deciding Slager had done nothing "malicious" in Scott's shooting.
But before a mistrial was declared Monday, five of the 12 jurors remained undecided on any conviction while a holdout for an acquittal refused to rethink his decision, Montgomery told the "Today" show. He said he chose to speak out Thursday to set the record straight about the jury's discussions.
After seeing the bystander's video, he first thought Scott's killing was murder, he said. But after looking at other evidence, poring over the legal requirements and factoring in the judge's instructions, he said the jury resorted to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
"We had to come to find out that he didn’t do anything malicious," Montgomery said of Slager during the "Today" interview. "He had a brief disturbance in reason at that moment."
"Malice," or an evil intent, is a central component of murder, while manslaughter happens in the "heat of passion" after the killer is somehow provoked. While murder carries 30 years to life in prison, manslaughter carries between two and 30 years.
Slager, 35, was arrested on the murder charge when the footage emerged publicly after the April 4, 2015, shooting. He said Scott, 50, whose car had been pulled over for a broken brake light, grabbed his Taser and turned it against him during a fight, prompting his gunfire in self-defense. The footage captured the Taser hitting the ground as Scott separated himself from the confrontation, though Slager testified during the trial that he didn't know it at the time.
Prosecutors cited a portion of the video that showed Slager pick up the stun gun and drop it near Scott's body as evidence of malice in the killing. The officer picked it up again seconds later, but he testified that he didn't remember doing that.
Like Scott, Montgomery had a pending arrest warrant when a North Charleston patrol officer stopped his car for a traffic violation.
The officer, who said in a report that Montgomery had been speeding in December 2014, learned about the warrant after checking Montgomery’s identity. Investigators alleged that Montgomery had given away or offered discounts on $5,500 worth of electronics at Best Buy, where he worked. An arrest affidavit said he later acknowledged poor judgment and promised to pay back the items' value.
Scott was wanted for not paying child support when Slager stopped him. Slager was not the officer who stopped Montgomery.
Montgomery, who lived in Ladson at the time, was handcuffed and taken to jail, where he was released on his own recognizance hours later. It was his only arrest in South Carolina, a rap sheet showed.
Montgomery was indicted last year on the charge of breach of trust with fraudulent intent, which carries up to five years in prison. A prosecutor in Wilson’s office, Assistant Solicitor Ted Corvey, dropped it Nov. 17 "per statute," paperwork stated without giving further reasoning.
“I was not aware that his charges were resolved in the midst of trial,” Wilson said, “or what the circumstances were surrounding their resolution.”
Over Slager's month-long trial, the 12 jurors listened to 55 witnesses for the prosecution and the defense.
Though race was never alleged to have played a role in Scott's killing, the shooting had come during a national conversation about police uses of force against black people.
"Due to the society that we live in, race will always be a factor," Montgomery told "Today." "I do believe some jurors may have had that in their mind, but the majority of them didn’t have anything in reference to race that may have played a factor in the decision."
The jurors started deliberations Wednesday night. By Friday, they announced a deadlock, pointing to the holdout for a not guilty verdict. But Montgomery said he had been hopeful that further talks could have swayed that juror, so he told Newman that the jury wanted to deliberate a little more.
They returned Monday, but the juror would not budge.
"He just had his own convictions," Montgomery told "Today," "and I’ll leave that right there."
Wilson vowed to retry Slager, who also is charged in federal court.
"I believe that justice shall come forth," Montgomery said in the interview. "Whatever the outcome will be ... that is what the outcome shall be."