South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper shoots unarmed motorist after pulling him over for not wearing a seatbelt
- SEPTEMBER 26, 2014
A US State Trooper has been caught on camera shooting an unarmed man after pulling him over for not wearing a seatbelt — but the cop says it was justified.
Former South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper Sean Groubert faces 20 years in prison if convicted of wrongfully shooting the motorist at a petrol station on September 4.
The 31-year-old, voted South Carolina Trooper of the Year in 2007, was fired from the force last week but insists he did the right thing.
“We believe the shooting was justified. We look forward to our day in court,” Mr Groubert’s lawyer told the court on Wednesday.
The shocking incident caused shock waves around the world after the dashboard video went viral.
Video showed Mr Groubert pulling over Levar Jones, 35, and ordering him to show his driver’s licence.
When Mr Jones reached into his car, Mr Groubert began shouting and opened fire with his semiautomatic handgun.
Mr Jones staggered away after being shot in the hip and raised his hands over his head.
As Mr Jones cried in pain waiting for an ambulance, he repeated one question: “Why did you shoot me?”
Mr Groubert responded, “Well you dove head first back into your car.”
Mr Groubert is white and Mr Jones is black.
The former trooper has been charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison. He was released after paying 10 per cent of a $75,000 bond.
Mr Groubert’s lawyer, Barney Giese, said the shooting was justified because the trooper feared for his life and the safety of others.
Meanwhile, Mr Jones is recovering. He released a statement last week saying he hopes his shooting leads to changes in how police officers treat suspects.
“I thank God every day that I am here with a story to tell and hope my situation can make a change,” Mr Jones said.
He and his lawyer have not spoken publicly since Mr Groubert was charged on Wednesday.
Mr Groubert’s boss, state Public Safety Director Leroy Smith, called the video “disturbing” and said “Groubert reacted to a perceived threat where there was none”.
Former State Trooper Sean Groubert
Mr Groubert first worked for the Highway Patrol from September 2005 to September 2009. He then moved over to Richland County Sheriff’s Office, before returning to the state agency in July 2012.
This isn’t the first time Groubert fired his service weapon.
In August 2012, Mr Groubert and another trooper chased a man who drove away from a traffic stop and fired at the suspect after he shot first, according to the Highway Patrol. The suspect was convicted of attempted murder and is spending 20 years in prison.
Reminiscent of Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting
Much like the recent police shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, the racial aspect of the South Carolina shooting bothers state Representative Joe Neal, an African-American lawmaker who has spoken out against racism in law enforcement for years.
“You are doing exactly what the police officer asked you do to and you get shot for it?” said Mr Neal. “That’s insane.”
South Carolina has nearly 300 police agencies, and many smaller forces don’t have dashboard cameras. Police officers are rarely charged.
So far in 2014 in South Carolina, police have shot at suspects 35 times, killing 16 of them, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. The number of officer-involved shootings has been steadily increasing over the past few years, with 42 reported in 2013.
In August, a prosecutor refused to file criminal charges against a deputy who shot a 70-year-old man after mistaking his cane for a shotgun during an after-dark traffic stop.
Neither state police nor the FBI keeps detailed statistics on the races of people in officer-involved shootings.