Sean Groubert, 31, a former South Carolina state trooper pleaded guilty Monday to felony assault and battery for the 2014 shooting of a driver during a traffic stop. Levar Jones was also in the courtroom as Groubert made his plea. Jones was the unarmed black man Groubert pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. He still walks with a limp after being shot once in the hip and seriously wounded.
There is no minimum sentence for the assault, which bears a maximum penalty of 20 years. The AP reports that Circuit Judge Casey Manning has asked that Groubert remain in jail before his sentencing, which appears to foreshadow that the judge’s decision will involve prison time for Groubert.
Dashcam video of Groubert shooting Jones on Sept. 4, 2014 led to public outrage less than a month after Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri. The Highway Patrol fired Groubert over the video evidence did not match the trooper’s account of events.
According to Groubert, Jones had been belligerent and aggressive throughout the traffic stop. He claimed Jones, who did not have a weapon on him or in his vehicle, had been ready to attack him.
The dashcam footage, however, shows Groubert pulling up to the victim’s car without the sirens or flashers on. Both men step out of their vehicles at a gas station. He asks Jones for his license, Jones reaches back into his vehicle, and Groubert fires on Jones within four seconds of asking for the license.
Jones staggers away from his car with Groubert shouting, “Get out of the car. Get out of the car.” He then fires three more shots at Jones as Jones staggers away with his hands raised. The wallet he had reached into his car to obtain can be seen falling out of his hand.
The arrest warrant issued to Groubert states that he “did without justification unlawfully shoot Levar Jones which produced great bodily injury or was likely to cause great bodily injury. Audio and visual recordings, as well as written statements, obtained are further evidence to indicate the shooting incident was without justification.”
“Everything seemed to be happening in fast forward from the time I saw the driver begin running toward the vehicle. I was unsure if the shots fired were coming from my own pistol, or if he was actively shooting,” Groubert said in a statement.
“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,” Leroy Smith, director of the SC public safety department said when Groubert was fired.
“These violations demonstrate behavior that deviates from SCDPS standards and cannot be tolerated,” Smith said. Five days later criminal charges against Groubert were filed.
In court Monday, Groubert answered questions from the judge. The AP reports:
The only hint of an explanation for what happened came when his lawyer requested he continue medication and visits to a psychiatrist to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder from an on-duty shooting in 2012. His supervisors said Groubert protected the public by chasing a suspect who fired on him during a traffic stop. Groubert was awarded the Highway Patrol’s Medal of Valor. The suspect is serving 20 years in prison on an attempted murder charge.