S. Carolina officer didn't see a gun before fatal shooting

FILE - This photo provided by Georgetown County Sheriff's Office shows Cassandra Dollard. Dashboard camera footage shows a Dollard, charged in the fatal on-duty shooting of a man, repeatedly told investigators and her boss that the man had something in his hand, but she didn’t know what it was. The footage of the Feb. 6 shooting in Hemingway was released, Monday, March 21, 2022, by state agents.(Georgetown County Sheriff's Office via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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A small town police officer in South Carolina charged in the fatal on-duty shooting of a man after a five-minute car chase repeatedly told investigators and her boss the man had something in his hand, but she did not know what it was, according to dashboard camera footage.

The camera also captured the shooting, showing Hemingway Police Officer Cassandra Dollard, working alone, slipped and fell in a muddy ditch as she approached the man's car as he tried to get out of the passenger door.

Dollard ordered him to stay in the car, then fired one shot at close range while still sitting as he got out, according to the dashboard camera footage released by state agents late Monday as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I’m trying to get up and I’m telling him don’t come out of the car and he kept coming on out, so, I fired one shot. But I thought I saw, for sure I saw something in his hands," Dollard said in a phone call to her police chief about 50 minutes after the shooting captured by the microphone connected to her dashboard camera.

She paused for a few seconds before adding “Lord have mercy."

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Dollard, who was fired after the shooting, is charged with voluntary manslaughter and faces two to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Robert Junior Langley was shot in the chest and died a short time after the shooting. Dollard's dashboard camera shows her alone with him in a ditch on a rural road in Georgetown County for more than seven minutes doing chest compressions and urging him “keep breathing, sir. I've got help coming.”

Lawyers for Langley's family said while Dollard fired the deadly shot, the blame for his death is shared by poor training from Hemingway Police and poor oversight from the state academy that trains all officers.

“Let’s be clear. Officer Dollard pulled the trigger, but the Hemingway Police Department gave her the gun and the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy cleared her to use it. It’s a dramatic failure at every level and it’s difficult to watch.," said state Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Hartsville who is representing the family.

The attorneys said Langley had money in his hand as he tried to get out of the car. No gun was found at the scene, investigators said.

Dollard had met all the requirements to be a police officer in South Carolina and just because as officer is fired from a force does not mean they lose their certification unless they are convicted of a felony, repeatedly use excessive force, lie or use illegal drugs, South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy Director Jackie Swindler said.

“We control certification of officers. We have no control over someone an agency hires,” Swindler said.

Dollard was on patrol in her town of 530 people when her dashboard camera, pointed at a lonely street, showed someone not stop as they turned right at 1:24 a.m. on Feb. 6, according to the dashcam footage released by the State Law Enforcement Division, which is investigating the shooting.

The car stopped briefly after Dollard tuned on her blue lights but sped off before she could get out of her cruiser. Dollard chased the vehicle for more than five minutes, much of it at speeds over 100 mph (160 kph) going 8 miles (13 kilometers) outside her small town and into the next county, according to the data on the dashboard camera.

Langley missed a turn and crashed his car into a ditch. For about 45 seconds, Dollard is off camera demanding Langley “show me your hands” and “you better get them out.”

Dollard then goes toward the passenger side of the car falling in the mud. “Don’t you came out” she said, then fires a shot just as Langley's head and chest can be seen coming out the passenger door in the dashcam footage.

“You had something in your hand, sir. What was in your hand?” Dollard demanded as Langley can be heard groaning.

After calling in the shooting, getting her flashlight and not getting answers from questions she was asking Langley, Dollard is seen in the footage starting chest compressions about three minutes after the shooting.

One of the first investigators to get to the scene some 25 minutes later asked her if he needs to look for a gun near the car. “I don’t know what he had in his hands. I just know he had something in his hands,” she said.

Dollard's lawyer did not return an email seeking comment on the video's release. Defense attorney Rose Mary Parham said at Dollard's bond hearing she was very sorry at what happened and grieves with Langley's family.

Dollard, 52, has been a police officer in South Carolina for all but one year since 1994, according to South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy records, working for six agencies and being fired three times, including by Hemingway after the shooting.

Dollard was fired from a state police unit for nine separate policy violations and a judge agreed with the agency's lawyers who said she had a “well-documented run of extraordinarily poor decision-making" in court papers after Dollard sued.

Langley's family said they hope people just don't consider him another statistic when they see the footage of his death.

"He was a father, a brother, a son and they killed him for nothing. They left a hole in our lives and it could happen to anyone,” Langley’s mother, Roslyn Brockington Langley, said is a statement released by her attorneys.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.