A good night’s sleep has been a rarity for Levar Jones since he was shot by a South Carolina trooper during a traffic stop in 2014.
“Last night was probably one of the better nights of sleep I’ve had in a while,” Jones, 38, said Wednesday, one day after Sean Groubert was sentenced to five years in prison for shooting Jones during a traffic stop on Sep. 4, 2014. The incident was caught on Groubert’s dashboard camera, and prosecutors said the footage refuted Groubert’s recollection of events to investigators.
Jones, who did not speak publicly Tuesday, said Wednesday that while he was disappointed Groubert did not receive the 20-year maximum sentence, he was glad to see South Carolina prosecute the officer. And he does think Groubert is remorseful. And for him, it was never personal, he said.
“I feel like South Carolina – Columbia in particular – did something where I’ve watched the rest of the country do nothing,” Jones said. “I’ve watched these other cases unfold from beginning to end, from camera phone to no-conviction.”
The shooting at a Broad River Road gas station made national headlines because Jones is African American and Groubert is white, and it was one of a number of race-related shootings involving police officers at the time. Groubert, 34, pleaded guilty in March 2016 to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for firing four shots at Jones, hitting once in the hip.
Jones, who asked the judge to give Groubert the maximum 20-year sentence, said he will never be satisfied with the sentence.
“The judge could have, literally, picked up the book and threw it at him,” he said. “I really don’t think I would have felt like that’s enough.”
Groubert turned and made a teary-eyed apology to Jones in court Tuesday, telling him, “You did nothing wrong. I screwed up.”
“I believe he was speaking from the heart,” Jones said. “I do believe he may have some issues going on. I understand the stress of law enforcement – it’s an extremely stressful job.”
Defense witnesses, including a psychiatrist, testified that Groubert had undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a 2012 high-speed chase and shootout with a suspect in Five Points. Groubert said in court Tuesday that he experienced a flashback when he saw Jones go back into his car and grab what Groubert thought was a gun but turned out to be a wallet.
In addition to requiring body cameras for law enforcement officers nationwide, Jones said he would like to see officers have better access to mental health services without fear of losing their badge, and mandatory time off.
“He just tried to work through it,” Jones said of Groubert and his PTSD. “That could be the most dangerous way to deal with it.”
Other reforms he would like to see include more cultural awareness training for lawmen. Jones said being around police officers makes him uncomfortable since the shooting.
“It’s not one of those trust (issues) as in, ‘I walk outside, I see police drive down the street, I’m turning around and going back in the house,’” he said. “It’s more, if you don’t know who I am, how are you gonna treat me? My fear isn’t as much the officer, but the situation I’ll be put into with an officer.”
Jones, who was returning home from his job of managing a fast-food restaurant the day he was shot, said it has been difficult to work since the shooting. But he said would like to get a job, possibly in some kind of activism.
Groubert asked Jones to forgive him Tuesday, but Jones said he does not need to.
“You’ve got to be mad at someone to forgive them,” he said. “I didn’t ever have bad feelings toward him.”
Jones laments not receiving an apology from any state official or the Highway Patrol. He said he has not eliminated the possibility of meeting Groubert after he is released from prison – but only if God tells him to do that.
“That day may heal the nation, for all we know,” he said. “We may have riots going on in the city, officers just got shot, buildings are on fire, but Mr. Jones went and stood with (Groubert’s) family on his released date. They hugged.
“You never know,” he said. “I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me.”