A former South Carolina state trooper arrested and charged with assault and battery for shooting and wounding a driver during a 2014 traffic stop has pleaded guilty, according to the Associated Press.
Sean Groubert, 31, was charged in September 2014 with one felony count of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. The assault and battery charge carries with it up to 20 years in prison, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which arrested Groubert.
This case was one of several that attracted national scrutiny in recent years amid protests against how police use force, particularly against black men and boys. The shooting occurred a little more than a month after a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., fatally shot a teenager there, sparking high-profile demonstrations that have been followed by a series of protests across the country.
The charge against Groubert stemmed from a traffic stop earlier that month in Columbia, the state capital. Groubert had just finished stopping another vehicle when he began another traffic stop on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 2014, at a Circle K convenience store about six miles away from the statehouse, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
During the stop, Groubert asked the driver, 35-year-old Levar Edward Jones, for his license. Jones had gotten out of the car in the Circle K’s parking lot, and he turned to his car and reached inside after being asked for the license.
“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 Department of Public Safety said in a statement that month. “Mr. Jones was not armed and was struck during the incident.”
In dashcam footage of the encounter, Jones is seen reaching into the car and then, when Groubert yells for him to get out of the car, moving back. Groubert then fires and hits Jones in the leg before ordering him to the ground. An attorney for Groubert has said that the trooper was justified in the shooting and also said the video could be interpreted more than one way.
Jones was taken to a hospital and treated. Groubert, who joined the highway patrol in 2005, was put on administrative leave and then fired from the South Carolina Highway Patrol a little more than two weeks later.
“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,” Leroy Smith, director of the public safety department, said in a statement announcing the firing.
Smith said that the department’s use of force guidelines say that force must only be used at the level needed for legal objectives, and that Groubert violated these policies.
As Smith put it, Groubert pulled over Jones in broad daylight and had a clear view of him during the stop.
“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,” Smith said. “These violations demonstrate behavior that deviates from SCDPS standards and cannot be tolerated.”
The assault and battery charge was announced five days after Groubert was fired.
An attorney for Groubert could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.