Crime & Courts

Forest Acres police video shows officer shooting into car 7 times

A police video released Thursday by the State Law Enforcement Division of the May 19 shooting of a motorist by a Forest Acres police officer shows the officer firing seven shots into a slow-moving car as the motorist began to drive away.

“Stop! Stop! Do not make me shoot you!” yells the officer, who is on foot in front of the vehicle with his weapon drawn and pointed at the car’s windshield. The driver is inside a small sedan and is the car’s only occupant.

The officer, identified as Robert Cooper, fires seven shots, rapidly and from a close distance – perhaps less than 10 feet away – as the car moves slowly, turns toward the officer and then appears to try to go around the officer. The motorist then pulls away from the scene and moves out of range of the officer’s dash-cam, which recorded the event.

Both hands of the motorist are fleetingly visible in the video, and he appears not to be holding a weapon, although two guns later were found in the car.

Cooper, a six-year police veteran, has been suspended with pay while his use of deadly force is under scrutiny after the early-morning shooting near an apartment complex. He has not been identified. The driver, a 17-year-old, was hit at least once and was hospitalized, jailed, then released on bond.

“Our investigation is continuing, and our work is still ongoing,” said SLED spokesman Thom Berry late Thursday.

Forest Acres asked SLED to investigate the case. SLED investigates nearly all officer-involved shootings in South Carolina. SLED will turn over its findings to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

Race has been an issue in many police shootings in South Carolina and across the country in recent years. In this case, the officer is white and the suspect is African-American.

The officer’s shots appear to have been fired directly into the driver’s side of the front windshield of the moving car.

Seconds after firing, the officer tells his dispatcher, “Shots fired! Shots fired! He tried to hit me with the vehicle.”

The officer then gets in his car, telling the dispatcher he is in pursuit and giving directions and continues, breathing heavily. “He almost hit me! I was barely able to get out of the way.”

Forest Acres police chief Gene Sealy said Thursday he had no comment and was waiting to receive SLED’s final report.

Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP, said Thursday that SLED allowed him to view the video.

“It was a bad shoot,” Randolph said, meaning that it was unjustified because the driver appeared to be unarmed, was driving slowly and was – to Randolph – trying to leave the scene rather than run the officer down.

In no way, Randolph said, is anyone justified in disobeying a police officer’s orders.

“I would never say the driver was right to flee,” Randolph said.

But, Randolph said, “The officer was not assaulted. The driver tried to avoid the officer. The officer’s life was not threatened.”

Randolph said, “It was a lot of shooting, at close range, so the officer is a bad shot, too.”

Initial Forest Acres police department statements said the incident took place in a parking lot at about 1:30 a.m. not far from Forest Drive and Richland Mall as the officer was investigating a homeowner’s complaints about loud music.

Police identified the driver as Antwon Gallmon, 17, who was treated for his shooting injuries at Palmetto Richland hospital and then taken to the Alvin Glenn Detention Center, according to Forest Acres police. He was released from the jail the next day on a $10,000 bond.

Gallmon was charged with:

▪ Failure to stop for blue lights

▪ Possession of a stolen vehicle

▪ Unlawful possession of a pistol (two counts)

▪ Simple possession of marijuana

▪ Unlawful possession of a Schedule 1 drug

▪ Driving without a license.

Gallmon was taken into custody following a brief, two-mile chase by other officers, the police incident report, released May 23, said. Two pistols also were found inside the car, which was reported stolen, the report said.