COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Black man who was shot in the back of the head during a traffic stop in South Carolina last fall is suing the Columbia Police Department, the city and the officer.
Attorneys for Sir Brandon Legette, 29, filed a complaint in federal court Friday morning alleging the officer, Sean Rollins, used unjustified force when he shot Legette near a grocery store parking lot during the early hours of Aug. 24.
A 76-second clip of body camera footage released by attorneys shows Legette lying stomach-down against the center console of his car, with Rollins above him inside the vehicle. The video shows Rollins striking Legette twice in the head and then shooting Legette once.
The police department previously said Legette ignored multiple commands to exit his Dodge SUV, and accelerated away with one officer partly inside the car. Authorities said the officer was being dragged and shot Legette while trying to get him to stop the vehicle.
In stills from dashboard camera footage shown to reporters Friday, the officer appeared to be entirely inside the car as it began moving across the lot.
Attorney Marc Brown said that during the stop, Rollins entered Legette’s car, which traveled 150 yards (137 meters) across the parking lot, ran down an embankment and stopped. The officer’s body camera appeared to have fallen off and onto the floor of Legette’s car, pointing up toward the two men.
Rollins was on top of Legette and attempted to shoot him but his gun didn’t fire, Brown said. Legette was not resisting when Rollins then proceeded to pistol-whip and shoot him, Brown said, citing footage that shows Legette raising his hands above his head.
“The officer had complete control of his firearm. The officer had complete control of Brandon,” Brown said. “He had complete control of the situation, but unfortunately he did not have control of himself and he attempted to execute Brandon.”
In a statement released Friday evening, the Columbia Police Department said the unedited videos show “the moments when Officer Rollins fought for his life as Legette recklessly sped away with Officer Rollins trapped in the vehicle.”
“Based on the facts of this case and given the current climate of our country, the narrative provided during that press conference was inaccurate, incomplete, and irresponsible,” the statement said.
Brown said Legette was working two jobs and living out of his car at the time of the shooting. He had ended a shift at his second job at the Food Lion, taken a shower at a local gym and returned to the grocery store when officers pulled him over in the parking lot for an expired tag, Brown said.
The bullet entered behind Legette’s right ear and exited 2 inches (5 centimeters) from his right eye, Brown said. Since the shooting, Legette has suffered from PTSD and depression, his attorney said.
“At the time of the situation I was just terrified,” said Legette, who appeared with his attorneys and his mother at a news conference Friday. ”I’m just appreciative and I’m thankful to be here today to share my story with you all.”
Rollins told investigators from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division that Legette had tried to hit several concrete pillars in the parking lot in an attempt to hurt Rollins, according to the investigative report summary.
In a letter dated Nov. 20, the Fifth Circuit Solicitor declined to prosecute Rollins based on information gathered through the investigation, including videos.
Authorities previously said that at the time of the incident, Legette was driving under suspension and had two outstanding warrants for burglary. Law enforcement also found Legette was out on bond for domestic abuse and child neglect charges.
Brown said Rollins was not aware of the warrants at the time of the incident.
Rollins was placed on paid administrative duty after the incident, authorities said.
But Brown said Rollins is still working for the department. Brown called for the city to fire Rollins and for federal authorities to conduct a separate investigation.
Legette faces multiple pending charges from the incident, including assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, possession of a stolen pistol and driving under suspension.
Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.