South Carolina trooper charged in shooting of unarmed man
On Sept. 4, Levar Edward Jones was stopped by a South Carolina state trooper in Columbia, S.C., and asked to produce his driver’s license.
As Jones reached inside the open driver’s door of his SUV to retrieve the license and then turned back toward the trooper, the officer shot at him four times.
“I just got my license! You said get my license!” Jones, who is black, shouted at Trooper Sean M. Groubert, who is white, as Jones tumbled to the pavement, wounded by at least one shot.
The incident was captured on a police dashboard camera released late Wednesday night.
Groubert, 31, was fired Sept. 19 and charged late Wednesday with felony assault and battery “of a high and aggravated nature,” according to an arrest warrant. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Jones, 35, who was unarmed, is recovering after being treated and released at a hospital for a gunshot wound to the hip, according to a spokesman for Jones’ lawyer, J. Todd Rutherford.
The incident is the latest of several involving shootings of unarmed black men by white officers, among them the highly publicized shooting death Aug. 9 of Michael Brown, 18, at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., that triggered several days of unrest.
The dashboard video of the South Carolina incident was shown at a bond hearing for Groubert on Wednesday night, said Tom Berry, a spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. The video was released by law enforcement officials after the hearing. Groubert was freed on $75,000 bond while awaiting a trial date.
“The facts of this case are disturbing to me,” Leroy Smith, director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “But I believe this case was an isolated incident in which Mr. Groubert reacted to a perceived threat where there was none.”
Smith, who is African American, added: “Further, this incident occurred in broad daylight. Mr. Groubert had a clear and unobstructed view of Mr. Jones. While Mr. Groubert was within the law to stop Mr. Jones for a safety belt violation, the force administered in this case was unwarranted.”
A statement released by the Department of Public Safety said: “For reasons that only Groubert can articulate at this point, he fired his service weapon multiple times while yelling repeatedly for Mr. Jones to ‘get out of the car.’”
The arrest warrant says that Groubert “did without justification unlawfully shoot Levar Jones.”
Groubert and another trooper were involved in a previous police shooting in 2012, after a suspect opened fire on the troopers, according to the Department of Public Safety. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing, according to a spokesman for the state Highway Patrol.
Groubert, who was initially placed on administrative duty following the Sept. 4 shooting, joined the Highway Patrol in 2005, left for another law enforcement job in 2009, then returned to the force in 2012.
The dashboard video shows Jones getting out of his white Dodge Durango SUV at a convenience store as the trooper asks for his license. As Jones reaches back into the vehicle, Groubert shouts: “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!”
Jones, who appears compliant and does not act aggressively, turns toward the officer. Groubert fires two shots.
Jones raises his hands as he tumbles backward, and Groubert fires two more shots.
“Get on the ground!” Groubert shouts, though Jones is already down.
“I got my license -- right here!” Jones, who has fallen out of the video frame, tells the trooper.
The video shows Groubert walking toward Jones as he shouts, “Put your hands behind your back!”
“What did I do?” Jones asks the trooper, who disappears from the video frame as he repeats several times, “Put your hands behind your back!”
“What did I do, sir?” Jones asks again.
“Are you hit?” Groubert asks.
“I think so,” Jones replies. “I can’t feel my leg.”
Seconds later, Jones asks again, “Why did you shoot me?”
“Well,” the trooper responds, “you dove head-first back in to your car ... then you jumped back out.”
“I’m sorry,” Jones says.
As Jones groans in pain, the trooper informs him that he was pulled over for a seat-belt violation. He then retrieves Jones’ wallet, which he had dropped to the pavement after being shot.
Jones, who says on the video that he works for a medical courier service, tells the officer that he unbuckled his seat belt because he was pulling into the convenience store to park and get out.
“I reached for my license and you shot me,” Jones says.
Barney Geise, an attorney representing Groubert, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
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