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SC Trooper who fatally shot man in fight won't be charged

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FILE

A white South Carolina trooper will not face criminal charges for fatally shooting a Black man who ran away from an attempted traffic stop last year, prosecutors have announced.

Agents with the State Law Enforcement Division found that Master Trooper Whittney Blake Benton acted in self-defense when he killed Tristan Vereen after trying to pull Vereen over for driving a car with a cracked windshield, 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said in a Monday news release.

"The evidence you uncovered shows Trooper Benton had ample probable cause to believe Vereen committed felony assault on a police officer while resisting arrest and posed an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to Benton at the time he fired the fatal shot," Richardson wrote to the agency.

Harry Daniels, an attorney for Vereen's relatives, said the family is planning to file a federal lawsuit and ask the the Department of Justice to review the facts. Daniels has said a cracked windshield is not necessarily a traffic violation under South Carolina law.

"We believe this was an unjustified stop," Daniels said Tuesday. "What spawned from the unjustified stop was an unjustified killing."

The incident occurred Sept. 11 on state Highway 905 near Loris. Dashcam and security footage showed Benton pursuing Vereen by car before Vereen pulls into a driveway and exits his vehicle, prompting a foot chase and a struggle between the two men.

State investigators found Benton used a stun gun on Vereen after Vereen ignored Benton's commands to stop and get on the ground. A 37-second fight ensued when Benton tried to handcuff Vereen, with Vereen then kicking, biting and using Benton's stun gun on the trooper.

Benton proceeded to fire one shot into Vereen's chest as both men were on the ground, with Vereen on top of Benton. The trooper told investigators he did so because he thought it was his "last option" before Vereen could grab the pistol and use it.

The trooper also claimed he heard Vereen ask bystanders to shoot Benton during the foot pursuit, though investigators observed that was not captured in the available audio.

Vereen, 33, was declared dead at a nearby hospital later that afternoon. Benton received surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder, according to the investigative report.