(CN) - The former North Charleston, S.C. police officer charged with murdering an unarmed black motorist in April sued a police fraternal group on Tuesday, claiming it unlawfully dropped the ball on his defense.
Michael Slager is charged with murdering Walter Scott on April 4 after the motorist ran from a traffic stop. He initially claimed he killed Scott in self defense after a struggle during which the fleeing man grabbed his Taser. However, a bystander's cellphone video contradicted that account, showing Slager shooting Scott five times in the back as he continued to run from the officer.
Scott's family later said they believe he fled because of an outstanding warrant for failure to timely pay child support.
In a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 in the Charleston Federal Court, Slager claims the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, which promises legal assistance to members, failed to get him a second attorney after his first one quit the case, and continues to fail to pay his legal bills, leaving him responsible for them.
Slager claims he first purchased a Legal Defense Benefit plan from the Southern States PBA in October 2011, that he discontinued it for a time, and then reinstated it on Jan. 31, 2015. He says at all times the policy was in effect, up to and including April 2015, he paid a monthly fee of $23,50 for coverage.
Slager says immediately after his arrest he made a request for benefits under the Legal Defense Benefit plan, and the Southern States PBA granted that request, assigning attorney David Aylor to his case.
Three days later, Aylor abruptly resigned.
"Following Attorney Aylor's sudden departure from representation, Officer Slager requested that Southern States PBA reassign another attorney to represent him under the Legal Defense Benefit plan," the complaint says.
"On Aril 8, 2015, just four days after the Scott incident and just four days after having provided benefits under the Legal Defense Benefit plan, Defendant Southern States PBA denied Officer Slager's request for representation."
Slager claims that at no time did Southern States PBA undertake an investigation after which it would have concluded he was not entitled to coverage under the plan, nor did it request to interview him before terminating his benefits.
"Whether Officer Slager acted criminally is the subject matter of the pending criminal charges against him," the complaint says. "Rather than continue to provide coverage benefits as it did between April 4 and April 7, 2015, on April 8, 2015 Defendant Southern States PBA acted in bad faith in summarily terminating benefits to its insured."
Slager, who continues to be held in the Charleston County Jail, said the expense associated with defense of the criminal charges against him is "substantial," and that without the benefits to which he believes he is entitled, those cost will leave him and his family financially devastated.
He seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as payment of attorney fees on claims of breach of contract, bad faith, and unfair insurance practices.
He is represented by Ronald Richter Jr. of Bland Richter LLP in Charleston.
The Southern States PBA has yet to comment on the lawsuit. However, its website states that members' benefits can be withheld under certain conditions, including when a member as committed, "an intentional, deliberate and/or illegal act."
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