Four shots fired by an S.C. Highway Patrol trooper changed Levar Jones’ life in eight seconds.
Once the rattling ended, Jones lay on the ground, unable to feel his left leg. He said he initially wasn’t sure if he had been shot with a stun gun or with bullets.
Dash cam video of the Sept. 4, 2014, incident captured Jones looking up, asking now-former trooper Sean Groubert why he pulled the trigger. Jones told Groubert he was reaching into his truck to get his license – which Groubert had requested.
Groubert, who is white, would later tell investigators that he shot Jones, an African-American, because Jones lunged into his vehicle and pulled out what appeared to an unknown black weapon.
But Groubert pleaded guilty in March 2016 to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for the wrongful shooting. A year later, the case still has not come to an end: Groubert has not been sentenced.
Jones, 38, said the lack of action has left him disappointed in a way that makes him feel “numb.”
“You get disappointed at something, but you keep on waiting,” Jones said. “Right now, the Bible says hold your peace and let the Lord fight your battles. I’m trying to just make it to the end.”
Circuit Judge Casey Manning ordered Groubert be booked into the county jail after he pleaded guilty. A sentencing date has not been set.
Manning was unavailable Friday, Manning’s office said. Manning has said before that there have been scheduling difficulties.
Attorney Justin Kata, who represents Groubert along with Barney Giese, said Friday he could not comment on a case that is pending.
In the meantime, Jones’ life remains on hold.
Though he was paid $285,000 in 2014 through the state’s Insurance Reserve Fund, much of it went to attorneys, replacing his vehicle that was impounded as part of the investigation and to cover his medical bills.
The settlement cash also helped cover Jones’ bi-monthly visits to a therapist over a nine-month period to help him cope with the ramifications of the shooting.
That day, Jones was on his way home from work. Since then, Jones said, he has been unable to find a job. He theorized would-be employers don’t want to hire him because they expect him to need time off for future court hearings.
He also was unable to return to his old job as a manager of a fast food restaurant, because he has problems with his left leg, pierced by one of the four bullets.
The nerve damage left by the bullet sometimes makes Jones’ leg feel very hot, like someone placed coal or a hot plate on it, he said. Other times, he can’t feel it at all. Then there are times when it feels like it’s wet. The sensation triggers a recurring dream that also routinely keeps him awake at night.
“I have a dream that I’m handcuffed on the ground or hands tied behind my back on the ground, and I’m in a puddle of wetness,” Jones said. “I just think that whenever that sensation kicks in, whenever I’m sleeping, it just takes me back to that place.”
‘I’M IN PAIN’
Jones said he doesn’t remember much of the shooting. It happened too fast.
“In less than eight seconds, you have a guy going from standing out there, getting out of his car to go into a store, to laying on the ground bleeding and trying to figure out what’s going on,” Jones said. “Trying to figure out if it’s even real.”
Jones said he pulled up to a gas station at the corner of Whiteford and Broad River roads, near St. Andrews Road, after spotting a distant relative in the parking lot. He took off his seat belt before coming to a stop behind his relative’s car.
Jones already had stepped out of the vehicle when Groubert pulled up and asked Jones for his license for not wearing a seat belt. Jones turned around to get his wallet, ducking through the still-open vehicle door. That’s when Jones’ memory gets fuzzy.
He said he remembers a gun being pointed at him. As shots rang out, Jones dropped his wallet. He threw his hands up in the air, stepping backward, then laid on the ground.
Then he thought, “Ouch, I’m in pain.”
Groubert placed Jones in handcuffs. Jones would remain handcuffed during his stay at the hospital, where said he felt he was treated as if he had done something wrong.
While Jones sat home alone recovering, agents from the State Law Enforcement Division investigated the shooting. Even his friends questioned his side of the story, Jones said. They just didn’t believe the only thing he had done was reach into his vehicle for his wallet.
Still, Jones said he never heard from state officials. He also has never spoken with Groubert. Even after the video of the shooting became public, Jones said he still felt like he was being treated as a suspect.
“For the first four months, I felt like they were still looking for the gun,” Jones said. “That’s my best analogy.”
‘IT’S JUST TIME ...’
Jones was shot by Groubert as the nation was reeling from the officer-involved deaths of Eric Garner, in New York, and Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.
But Jones survived his shooting. And he said he felt that because of it there was a lot riding on his case.
Jones said he wanted Groubert to have a fair trial and worried about bringing too much attention to the case. He opted for participating in few interviews, before retreating.
He hoped the dash cam video would speak for itself and trigger a wave of law enforcement reforms, since it captured the incident so clearly.
“It was the perfect storm,” Jones said. “It was in broad daylight.”
Jones said he expected a rallying cry for equipping all law enforcement officers with body cameras. Then, nothing happened.
It wasn’t until that next April, with the fatal shooting of Walter Scott by now-former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, that state legislators passed a body camera law. But Jones said he awaits additional reform, which should include providing officers with frequent access to therapists without the fear of losing their badges.
When Groubert pleaded guilty, his attorney, Giese, told Manning that Groubert suffered from post traumatic stress disorder from a 2012 shootout with a suspect in a Five Points bank parking lot.
After the Jones shooting, Groubert was released on bond, then was placed on house arrest after he and his wife were accused of shoplifting in November 2015.
Groubert has been held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center since pleading guilty in March 2016, according to jail records.
In the meantime, Jones has spent much of his time searching for a job, reading and doing a bit of writing himself. He’s written a book about his incident, which he someday hopes to read to audiences nationwide.
Though Jones said he wants to “sit back and kind of let the universe” work, he repeated his call for Groubert to receive the maximum sentence allowed for the crime: 20 years in prison.
“It’s just time to do it now,” Jones said. “There’s no more time to be waiting.”