(Reuters) – A student who was killed by police at a South Carolina college on Monday night was attempting to steal a car and was shot lawfully as he tried to run over a campus officer, officials said.
The shooting occurred when two officers were responding to a report of a vehicle theft at Spartanburg Methodist College in Greenville, county Sheriff Chuck Wright told a news conference on Tuesday.
The dead student “just made a terrible choice that cost his life,” said Wright. “He tried to run over one of the Spartanburg Methodist police officers and he was shot and killed.”
Wright said statements by witnesses were “very consistent” with the officer’s account of the incident, which is being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
The dead man was identified as Delvin Tyrell Simmons, 20, a black, second year student at nearby Limestone College, according to Spartanburg County coroner’s office. Another former Limestone student, Oliver Mylik Chandler, was arrested by campus police, according to a statement by the college.
The officer who is white, was placed under routine paid administrative leave and has not been named, police said.
“This has zero to do with color,” said Wright. “This has everything to do with an officer’s life being put in jeopardy and defending himself lawfully.”
The two men ran when police were alerted to a car break-in, according to police. Simmons was shot and killed soon after as he tried to drive out of a car park at speed and failed to comply with verbal commands, police said.
The driver was pronounced dead at the scene, the Coroner’s Office said. The officer was unhurt.
There has been heightened awareness of police shootings in the United States after a series of high-profile cases over the past 18 months in cities including Ferguson, Missouri and New York in which unarmed black men were fatally shot by white officers, sparking widespread protests and concern over treatment of minorities by law enforcement.
“I want you to make no mistake about it, you will not run over our law enforcement,” Wright said of Monday’s incident. “We are trained to do try our best to stay out of those situations but sometimes our duty calls us to be in just those spots,” he added.
Spartanburg Methodist police department received body camera equipment a few days ago but they were not yet in use, Wright said.
Chandler was a former member of the football and track teams but was suspended from Limestone for academic reasons in May 2015, the college said.
Simmons was enrolled as an early childhood education major and was also involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Monday’s incident was the 42nd shooting in South Carolina involving a police officer this year, matching the total from last year, SLED said.
(Reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by Frances Kerry)