COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina prosecutor said Wednesday that he will not file charges against the white police officer who fatally shot a Black teenager who pointed a gun at the officer as he ran away.
Josh Ruffin, 17, was an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others when he stopped during the chase and pointed a gun at Columbia police Officer Kevin Davis, Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson said at a news conference.
Davis had reason to chase the teen because he was outside during the COVID-19 shutdown order during and a neighborhood leader had just reported suspicious activity in an area with a higher than average crime rate, Gipson said.
The Ruffin family’s lawyer, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, said they would have preferred for the officer face charges. They reviewed the body camera footage and weren’t convinced that the blurry video ever showed the teen point a gun at the officer.
“What we saw as a child running away from police. We saw no reason for arresting Josh, no reason to have stopped him,” Rutherford said.
The April 8 shooting had become a focal point of protests over racial injustice in Columbia since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Gipson, who is Black, opened the news conference speaking several minutes about historic injustices against Blacks by white police officers and society in general.
“There is no joy in this room having this conversation,” Gipson said.
The prosecutor said that after getting the text about young people “messing with cars” in the neighborhood, Davis saw Ruffin duck behind a house as he drove by, then saw the teen come back into view with a bag on his shoulder, prosecutors said.
The teen walked away as Davis stopped to talk, then started running, Gipson said.
The prosecutor narrated body camera video that starts with Davis chasing the teen. The officer’s gun is not in his hands as he chases the teen for about 30 seconds.
The video shows Ruffin stop, stoop down and pick up what Gipson said was a .45 caliber pistol. Davis then draws his weapon and demands that the teen drop the gun on the video.
After one shot, Ruffin runs out of the video’s frame and the officer fires nine more shots.
Gipson said Ruffin was hit in the forehead, which shows he was turned toward the officer when he was struck. Ruffin never fired, authorities said.
The footage showed a gun and a handbag on the ground beside a bleeding Ruffin as officers rushed up after the shooting.
“We can’t tell you what Ruffin’s intentions were. But he was armed. He pointed the gun at the officer and he tried to evade the officer,” Gipson said.
Prosecutors stopped the body camera footage just as the officers ran up to Ruffin. The footage released did not show if they immediately gave him first aid.
Ruffin’s family doesn’t think the did and Rutherford said he doesn’t know.
Davis remains on administrative leave as the police department reviews whether he broke any of the agency’s policies, Columbia police Chief Skip Holbrook said.
“It’s a heavy burden that he carries for the rest of his life,” Holbrook said of Davis, who has worked for the agency for more than four years. “If he was standing here, he would say this is a tragedy.”
Holbrook defended his agency, saying it is transparent and accountable and he told as much as he knew about the shooting the day after Ruffin was killed.
“Their training is exceptional. They’re professional. They treat people with dignity and respect. We value that sanctity of life, first and foremost,” Holbrook said.
Ruffin’s shooting has been brought up at several rallies to fight racial injustice in Columbia, with demonstrators shouting, “Justice for Josh!”