HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Family members said a man killed Sept. 11 after being shot by a South Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper was wrongfully pulled over, and lawyers said the family isn’t getting answers it deserves.
The news conference Wednesday lasted about 15 minutes with roughly 5 minutes of questions and the family, lawyers, and community activists called Tristan Vereen’s death a murder. The family disputed law enforcement’s description of the incident, starting with what the family said was the reason for the stop — a broken windshield.
“The probable cause is what? A cracked windshield,” said Abdullah Mustafa, president of the New Century Justice Network. “Everyone on this side of my voice has seen cracked windshields. Is that probable cause to kill a person?”
While the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is continuing to investigate the incident, the family said it wants answers now.
“Why the taser? Why did he need to chase him down and tase him? And then even after he had already tased Tristan Vereen, why did he feel the need to shoot him, ultimately killing him?” said Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, an attorney for the family.
“There’s no justifiable cause for the stop on Sept. 11 that led to this trooper murdering my brother, that’s what it is,” said Marion Vereen, Tristan Vereen’s sister.
Harry Daniels, another attorney for the family, said they have asked 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson to provide them with information that a cracked windshield is a traffic violation.
“I have not received an email as such,” Daniels said. “Considering he is the chief law enforcement officer of Horry County, I would think at minimum, would know the laws of South Carolina.”
Richardson said he’s waiting for the complete report from SLED.
“I don’t doubt for a second it wasn’t the reason for the stop, but I’ve got nothing to base that on,” Richardson said. “[Benton] hasn’t told me that. I haven’t seen the report of that. I’m not saying that they’re telling a story on that, I’m just saying I don’t know that and it would be an assumption from me to believe that.”
The family’s lawyers during the news conference pointed out that Trooper W. B. Benton, who is the trooper involved, was sued in 2016 for excessive force. That case was settled in 2017 for $70,000, according to online records.
Richardson said the trooper tased Vereen, and then when they were on the ground, Vereen allegedly took the taser and used it on the trooper. Vereen also allegedly bit the officer. After Vereen tased the trooper, he was shot once in the chest, according to Richardson.
“You’ll see where the prongs of the officer’s taser were used in his neck,” Richardson said. “There’s at least five, you may count more, but all across his neck where the officer was hit with his taser and that was done before Tristan was shot.”
Surveillance video was released Sept. 22 of the incident.
The video shows a trooper’s car and another car pull into a driveway. They both get out and the trooper chases after a person. Then there was a scuffle and the man eventually staggers away and the video ends. The video has no sound. The solicitor’s office said the video does show the shooting but it’s not easily visible when exactly the shooting happens.
Vereen’s family and their civil rights attorney released a statement in response to the video being released. Richardson had said he believed Vereen was pulled over for a cracked windshield which the statement reads is not a traffic violation in South Carolina.
Count on News13 for updates in this case.