Almost three years after he shot an unarmed motorist, a sentencing hearing for former state Highway Patrol trooper Sean Groubert has been set for Tuesday morning at the Richland County courthouse, according to the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office.
On Sept. 4, 2014, Groubert shot Levar Jones at a St. Andrews gas station and was fired shortly thereafter. He was charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
He pleaded guilty in March 2016, leaving Jones waiting nearly 18 months for his assailant to be sentenced. Groubert could be given as much as 20 years in prison.
The shooting attracted national attention because Groubert is white, and Jones is African-American. It was one of a number of race-related police shootings in recent years in which evidence or witnesses indicated the shooting didn’t have to happen.
A trooper dashcam video of the shooting showed Jones turning to reach into his vehicle – he later told police he was getting his wallet to retrieve his driver’s license – and Groubert opening fire almost immediately.
In initial statements to police, Groubert said he fired because he feared for his life. The video also showed Jones being polite, complying with the trooper’s request.
Groubert’s lawyers, Barney Giese and Justin Kata, have said during Groubert’s guilty plea that he suffers from PTSD related to a 2012 shootout with a suspect in Columbia’s Five Points. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental condition caused by an unsettling event in one’s past that triggers uncontrollable physical and emotional reactions in the present.
In that 2012 incident, Giese said, Groubert “was shot at and returned fire,” Giese said.
Evidence about PTSD likely will be presented at the Tuesday hearing, with Giese trying to convince the judge to give his client a light sentence, such as probation. Prosecutors might push for prison.
Giese declined comment Friday except to say, “It’s my understanding there is a hearing tentatively set for Tuesday.”
The shooting took place in daylight at a Circle K gas station northwest of Columbia, in St. Andrews.
Jones, who was shot in the hip, accepted a $285,000 settlement from the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund. He has previously said he wants Groubert to get the maximum sentence.