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COLUMBIA, S.C. — One moment, a man reaches into his vehicle after a South Carolina trooper asked for his driver’s license.
Seconds later, the trooper shoots him, and the man asks why. Days later, prosecutors aren’t satisfied with the answer.
Authorities released dash-camera video Wednesday showing what they say is Sean Groubert, then a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper, shooting Levar Jones, who was unarmed, in the parking lot of a gas station just outside Columbia on Sept. 4.
Jones, 35, survived the shooting. But Groubert, who was fired because of the incident last week, has been charged with aggravated assault and battery, a felony that could get him up to 20 years in prison if convicted, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said Wednesday.
“The force administered in this case was unwarranted, inconsistent with how our troopers are trained, and clearly in violation of department policies,” state Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said while announcing Groubert’s firing Friday.
‘Why did you shoot me?’
Police said Groubert, 31, stopped Jones in the parking lot of a Circle K station in daylight, for what police say was an alleged seat-belt violation, at around 5 p.m.
Video that authorities say was recorded from Groubert’s police car shows the trooper driving up to a vehicle just as its driver — whom authorities say is Jones — stepped out of the vehicle.
When Groubert asks for Jones’ license, Jones pivots toward his truck — the driver’s door was still open — and leans inside as if to retrieve something, the video shows.
About 2 seconds later, the trooper that police identify as Groubert comes into view with a gun drawn and yells “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” The gun is fired — at least four shots are heard — and Jones steps away from the truck, raising his hands in the air and eventually moving off camera.
“I just got my license! You said get my license!” someone off camera, apparently Jones, says.
After being told to put his hands behind his back, Jones asks: “What did I do, sir?”
“Are you hit?” another off-camera voice, apparently Groubert’s, asks.
“I think so,” comes the response. “I can’t feel my leg. I don’t know what happened.”
The conversation continues:
“Why did you shoot me?”
“Well, you dove head-first back into your car. Then you (unintelligible), I’m telling you get out of your car.”
Shot in the hip
Jones was shot in the hip, WACH reported. He was taken to a hospital and later released, authorities said.
Jones was found not to be armed, Smith said.
“I believe this case was an isolated incident in which Mr. Groubert reacted to a perceived threat where there was none,” Smith said last week.
In a court hearing Wednesday night, a judge ordered Groubert held with bond set at $75,000, WACH reported.
In explaining Groubert’s firing Friday, Smith said the department’s policy on using force says that officers can use “only the level of force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives.”
“That protocol was not followed in this case. Further, this incident occurred in broad daylight. Mr. Groubert had a clear and unobstructed view of Mr. Jones,” Smith said.
The shooting, Smith said, “deviates from SCDPS standards and cannot be tolerated.”