Forest Acres police officer shoots into car 7 times at suspect
A grand jury decided not to indict a Forest Acres police officer who stepped in front of a car and fired several gunshots as the teen motorist drove away.
Prosecutors were seeking an indictment on attempted murder for Officer Robert Cooper. However, a Richland County grand jury has returned a “no bill,” according to online court records.
In video of the May 2016 shooting, Cooper, a six-year veteran of the department at the time, is seen stepping in front of the vehicle as 17-year-old Antwon Gallmon tried to drive around him. Cooper fires seven shots, rapidly and at close distance, as the car slowly moves closer to him.
Gallmon was struck at least once. He was taken into custody following a brief, two-mile chase by other officers, the police incident report said. Two pistols also were found inside the car, which had been reported stolen, the report said.
“We were glad to see that outcome,” Forest Acres police Chief Gene Sealy said of the grand jury’s decision.
Neither 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson nor anyone in his office responded to calls or emails Wednesday. It is unknown what Cooper was alleged to have done wrong and why prosecutors pursued an attempted murder charge.
A conviction for attempted murder carries up to 30 years in prison, under South Carolina law.
Cooper was placed on administrative leave with pay after the shooting, and Sealy said he remains on leave.
“He’s not actively working as a police officer on administrative leave,” Sealy said.
After being released from the hospital, Gallmon was arrested on several charges, including traffic violations, unlawful possession of a pistol and drug possession charges.
Gallmon, who is African-American, was alone in the car. Cooper, who is white, approched the parked vehicle after a homeowner’s complaint about loud music.
The incident happened around 1:30 a.m. on May 19 in a parking lot not far from Forest Drive and Richland Mall.
The officer is heard yelling “Stop! Stop! Don’t make me shoot you!” in the video, which shows him standing in front of the car with his gun drawn. He fires the seven shots as the car moves slowly toward him then appears to try and go around the officer.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” Cooper says to dispatch seconds later. “He tried to hit me with the vehicle. ... He almost hit me. I was barely able to get out of the way.”
The Forest Acres Police Department’s use of force policy says that officers should “employ the minimum force necessary to effect an arrest and overcome any resistance.”
Under a section on “prohibited use of force,” that policy also says, “An officer shall not fire at a moving vehicle unless the occupant(s) of the vehicle pose a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or a third party, and then, only when a clear shooting background exists.”
The policy also allows officers to use deadly force “to defend themselves, an assisting officer, or third party from death or serious bodily injury.”
Sealy said Cooper acted within the department’s policy and guidelines.
“They’re limited on shooting in vehicles,” he said. “Under the threat of death or serious bodily injury, they have that discretion.”
The State Law Enforcement Division investigated the shooting at Sealy’s request.
The criminal charges against Gallmon remain pending, according to court records. A lawsuit filed by Gallmon in November against Cooper, the Forest Acres Police Department and Sealy alleges recklessness and negligence by the defendants and seeks unspecified punitive damages.
Cooper was hired by the department in June 2010, according to information provided by the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. Records from the academy show that Cooper took several classes in the months after the shooting, including one in August 2016 titled “De-Escalation: Surviving Verbal Conflict.”
This isn’t the first time prosecutors have failed to get an indictment for a Columbia-area officer. Johnson unsuccessfully sought an indictment for former Richland County sheriff’s deputy Kirk Willis, who is white, in the April 2014 shooting of Tymeek Payne, a black man.
Sheriff Leon Lott, who asked that the case go before the grand jury, said he still fired Willis because of the deputy’s judgment.