** (Disclaimer: This video content is intended for educational and informational purposes only) **
A suburban Columbia officer fired seven shots at a driver last month as the driver turned the wheel and drove away. The video shows Robert Cooper, an officer with the Forest Acres Police Department, on a darkened street and screaming, “Stop! Stop!” The driver then backs up his Honda Accord, the video shows, and Cooper moves into its path with his gun trained at the car’s front windshield. “Stop! Stop! Do not make me shoot you!” Cooper shouts. The driver then raises his right hand but turns the wheel with his left. As the car passes by, Cooper fires into the front windshield at point-blank range and then five more times as it passes by. “Shots fired! Shots Fired! He tried to hit me with the vehicle,” Cooper can be heard saying.
Cooper then gets into his cruiser. Out of breath, he says, “He almost hit me. I was barely able to get out of the way.” He then tells the dispatcher that he fired about five or six times into the driver’s door and the window. Despite being struck, the driver, Antwon Gallmon, 17, led police on a 2-mile chase that ended when the car crashed into an ATM. Gallmon was taken to the hospital and treated. When Gallmon was released from the hospital, police transported him to a Richland County detention center, where he was charged with failing to stop for blue lights, possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of marijuana, driving without a license and several other traffic charges. Cooper was put on paid administrative leave.
The shooting comes amid criticism that officers are too quick to fire at vehicles. Criminal justice experts say officers often put themselves in harm’s way and then fire their weapons, situations sometimes referred to as “officer-created jeopardy.” Some cities, including Charleston, all but prohibit officers from firing at cars, saying the tactic is ineffective, turns fleeing cars into unguided missiles and puts bystanders in danger. Forest Acres Police Chief Gene Sealey said that after the shooting, his department immediately turned over videos and other materials to SLED.
He said he saw the video for the first time last week. He declined to discuss details of the shooting until SLED wraps up its investigation, which he expects to happen in the coming weeks. He confirmed that Cooper remains on paid administrative leave. Asked about the issue of officers firing into cars, Sealey said, “There’s always time to go back, especially when there’s video, and see what we could have done better, and I expect we’ll do that. The last thing we want to be involved with is a shooting.”
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