Tristan Vereen moaned as he lay on the ground after S.C. Highway Patrol Master Trooper W.B. Benton shot him in the midst of a struggle.
“He killed me,” Vereen groaned, according to audio of the incident released by the S.C. Highway Patrol Thursday afternoon. Vereen then told Benton he'd been shot.
“Turn over,” Benton replied. “Turn over or I’ll do it again.”
A recording of that exchange was included in a collection of public records that the Highway Patrol provided to MyHorryNews.com in response to an S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The files include audio and dashcam video that was recorded on Sept. 11, the day Vereen died after authorities say Benton shot him once in the chest. Vereen was 33 years old, lived in Longs and had four children.
Vereen family attorney Harry Daniels took issue with Benton's comment after the shooting.
"Why would you shoot a person who’s been shot and they’re not rolling over and you’re no longer in combat with that person?" he asked. "That’s pretty disturbing. So the question is, 'Why did you shoot him in the first place?' if you’re willing to say 'If you don’t roll, I’ll shoot you again,’ that puts you in a position of ‘Why did you shoot him in the first place?’"
Dashcam video from Benton's car shows the trooper begin his pursuit of Vereen near S.C. 22 and S.C. 905. The video doesn’t make it clear why Benton began tracking Vereen's vehicle.
"[There was] no radio communication to dispatch or what was the reason for the stop, which is very unusual and seemingly you would think if you’re stopping a vehicle, you would give the reasoning for the stop," Daniels said. "But that didn’t transpire initially."
Daniels contends that a cracked windshield was the reason Benton pursued Vereen, citing Vereen’s family and statements made by 15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson. Daniels said Benton shouldn’t have tried to stop Vereen for that reason because South Carolina law doesn’t explicitly forbid cracked windshields.
"A broken windshield should not lead to an encounter with law enforcement in the state of South Carolina, especially a deadly encounter," Daniels said.
Richardson, the elected prosecutor for Horry County, has said the windshield may have been the reason for the stop because the windshield of the silver Honda Element Vereen was driving had a crack running along the bottom, but he couldn’t say for sure and has denied telling Daniels that was the case.
At the beginning of the pursuit, Vereen rolled down his window and yelled something about “jail,” and that he’d “gotta go” before driving off, twice turning around in the middle of the road. The solicitor’s office has said Vereen yelled to the officer that he didn’t want to go back to jail.
For about five minutes, Benton, a 10-year veteran of the highway patrol, pursued Vereen, with Vereen occasionally driving on the wrong side of the road. Less than two minutes into the chase, Benton turned on his sirens, and the pursuit continued.
Finally, Vereen pulled into a property that appears to be near McNeil Chapel Road. Vereen ran and Benton took off after him.
"Stop," Benton yelled. “Get on the ground. Get on the ground. Get on the ground. Get on the ground."
During the confrontation, Benton fired his taser. The solicitor’s office said Benton stunned Vereen before Vereen gained control of the taser, and a struggle ensued. Several times throughout the video, Benton told Vereen, “Let me see your hands.”
During the tussle, Vereen bit Benton and stunned him with the taser, according to the solicitor’s office, which released photos of Benton’s injuries.
Finally, while being pinned to the ground, Benton fired the shot that would end Vereen’s life that evening.
“Somebody help me,” Vereen begged. “Help me. Help me.”
Panting, Benton radioed in to dispatchers. “I need an ambulance. I need an ambulance, and they probably need to come this way.”
The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the shooting. SLED typically investigates police shootings to determine whether an officer was justified in using lethal force. SLED officials have said little about this case and they have not yet commented about what led to the pursuit.
Benton was also not wearing a body camera during the incident. Some highway patrol troopers have body cameras, but Benton had not yet been issued one.
The confrontation was also captured on a Ring Doorbell-style camera on a nearby property. The solicitor's office released that video on Wednesday, citing the need for transparency.
Daniels, the Vereen family's attorney, has argued that if the initial stop was unlawful, then Vereen was within his rights to resist arrest and therefore his killing was also unlawful.
"It goes back to the legality of the stop," Daniels said. "A broken windshield should not lead to someone being stopped and killed."
The case, which involves a white law enforcement officer killing a Black man, has also drawn attention from the Racial Justice Network.
"Unfortunately, we see time after time that the rights that have been afforded to us by the United States Constitution, are not afforded to people of color when it comes to their interaction(s) with law enforcement," Daniels and co-counsel Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said in a statement Wednesday.
Richardson could not be reached for comment Thursday.