Above Photo: Sean Groubert, being led into custody, after pleading guilty in the shooting of unarmed Levar Jones in 2014. AP
Sean Groubert, a former South Carolina state trooper, has pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for the shooting of Levar Jones at a Columbia gas station in September of 2014. Video from Groubert’s patrol car went viral at a time of heightened scrutiny and anxiety of police executions of unarmed African Americans—immediately after the murders of Mike Brown in Ferguson, John Crawford in Ohio and Eric Garner in New York and just prior to the murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for Brown’s murder. Groubert’s shooting of Jones occurred about seven months before another South Carolina law enforcement officer, Michael Slager, murdered an unarmed Walter Scott.
Groubert entered his plea on Monday of this week. Jones, who survived the ordeal, was present in the courtroom during the proceedings. Groubert followed Jones to initiate a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation. As Groubert exits his vehicle Jones is already standing at the driver side of his car. Groubert can be heard asking Jones for his license. In an effort to comply with the officer’s lawful request, Jones quickly turns around and reaches into his vehicle. At that point, Groubert began yelling at Jones to “get out of the car!” Once Jones turned around from being inside the vehicle, Groubert opens fire, shooting him three times. Jones is seen falling to the ground with both hands raised as Groubert continues to yell at him to get on the ground. Jones can be heard in the video asking why he was shot, saying “I just got my license, you said get my license. What did I do, sir?”
Did we mention Groubert fired his weapon three times at a gas station? Video of the incident is below the fold.
Groubert was fired a few weeks after the incident that occurred on September 4. Leroy Smith, the director of South Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, stated on September 19 that Groubert’s actions were not in line with the Department’s standards:
After my review of the facts surrounding this matter, I have determined that Mr. Groubert’s actions rose to such an extent that his employment with us must be terminated. The facts of this case are disturbing to me, but I believe this case was an isolated incident in which Mr. Groubert reacted to a perceived threat where there was none. The department’s Use of Force Policy makes clear that officers shall use “only the level of force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives” and that “the use of force must be discontinued when it becomes apparent to the officer that the force is no longer needed.” 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. While Mr. Groubert was within the law to stop Mr. Jones for a safety belt violation, the force administered in this case was unwarranted, inconsistent with how our troopers are trained, and clearly in violation of Department policies. These violations demonstrate behavior that deviates from SCDPS standards and cannot be tolerated.
Both Groubert and his wife would be accused of shoplifting from a local Walmart a month or so later. The couple were said to have switched the price tags on several items and attempted to pay the bogus price at a self-checkout register. Groubert was taken into custody following his plea in the shooting of Levar Jones. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.