A white Forest Acres police officer shot a black driver who officials say tried to strike the officer with a car early Thursday. But it was unclear whether the officer shot at the vehicle as the driver drove toward him or drove away.
The officer, whose identity was not made available Thursday, approached a man in a parked vehicle while responding to a noise complaint at about 1 a.m., Forest Acres Police Chief Gene Sealy said. The man ignored the officer’s commands and headed toward him in the vehicle before fleeing, Sealy said. At some point, the officer fired, striking the man.
The driver suffered a gunshot wound but was able to drive away as the officer pursued, Sealy said. The chase ended when the driver crashed into an ATM at South Carolina Federal Credit Union on Forest Drive.
Police called in the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the shooting. SLED could not say exactly when the officer fired, whether it was as the driver came at him or as the driver fled, though both things were reported as SLED’s preliminary information at different points in the day.
“The sequence in which all of that took place will be developed as the investigation continues,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.
There is video of the incident from the patrol car, but neither Forest Acres police nor SLED would release it when The State newspaper asked for it Thursday.
Authorities at SLED and the police department said they did not know where or how badly the suspect was wounded. He was taken to a hospital, and was conscious and able to speak to emergency personnel, Berry said.
The officer was not hurt, officials said. Sealy said at a news conference that the officer responded to the initial complaint alone, and that other officers joined the chase when it reached Forest Drive. Sealy said the officer has been with the department “several years.”
Police have turned dash-cam footage of the incident over to SLED investigators, Sealy said. Berry said whether or not the video is released “will have to be determined as the investigation continues.”
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 law enforcement found that the suspect’s vehicle had been reported to Columbia officials as stolen.
The incident was the 17th officer-involved shooting in South Carolina in 2016, according to a SLED news release. It was the first involving the Forest Acres department. There were 48 such incidents in 2015, including one involving a Forest Acres officer. Greg Alia, 32, was fatally wounded in a struggle with a suspect inside Richland Mall Sept. 30, 2015.
Richland Mall is a short distance from Brookwood Court, a two-block street culminating in a dead end. Resident Dana McManus, 38, said she was awake at about 1:30 a.m. and saw the pursuit.
“I heard what distinctly sounded like I think six gunshots, really close,” McManus said. “Then through the blinds – we have a huge front window – as soon as the shots rang out, a car went screeching up the street, and then not 30 seconds behind him was a cop flying through here chasing him.”
Police remained in the area until about 4 a.m., McManus said.