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BWC: Fla. man with railroad spike charges at officers before fatal OIS

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies deployed a TASER and a BolaWrap but neither stopped the man’s approach

By Tony Marrero
Tampa Bay Times

PLANT CITY, Fla. — Two Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies fatally shot a man in front of a Plant City worship center after he refused commands to drop a sharp object and advanced toward them on Tuesday, Sheriff Chad Chronister said.

The incident began about 2:20 a.m., when priests at the Divine Mercy Prayer House, 2905 S. Frontage Road, called 911 to report that a man they didn’t recognize was banging on the windows of the building and saying he was going to kill them, Chronister said at a news conference at the scene.

Three deputies arrived to find the man behind the iron gate that surrounds the worship center’s property, which faces the frontage road that runs along the south side of Interstate 4. The deputies saw the man had some sort of sharp object in his hand, so they started “de-escalation techniques” and ordered the man to drop the object, Chronister said.

“He says, no, I’m not dropping it,” Chronister said. “He was acting extremely erratic at this point.”

Chronister said the man kicked the worship center’s gate and the deputies backed away toward Interstate 4 to create some distance between them and the man. The man kicked the gate again and it opened, and he advanced toward the deputies, according to Chronister.

“He’s groaning almost like a gorilla, bouncing back and forth, mimicking the actions of a gorilla,” he said.

The deputies continued to order the man to drop the object he was holding, but he did not, Chronister said. One of the deputies deployed a BolaWrap, a lassoing tool that can be fired at suspects from a distance to restrain and immobilize them. It didn’t work, Chronister said.

The deputies continued to back away toward the high wall along the southern lanes of I-4.

“They’re getting closer and closer to that barrier where they have nowhere else to go,” Chronister said.

One of the deputies deployed a Taser and that didn’t subdue the man, according to Chronister. The man continued to act erratically and advance toward the deputies while holding the object.

“At this point, they have to be more concerned with preserving their own life than this individual’s life,” Chronister said.

Two of the deputies opened fire, hitting the man. Deputies attempted lifesaving measures until paramedics arrived. He died at the scene.

Deputies determined the man had been holding a railroad spike.

Investigators were working to identify the man.

The two deputies who fired are Robert Sanchez, 43, and Jacob St. John, 27.

Sanchez has been with the office for 17 years and St. John for 10 months. Neither deputy has previous use-of-force incidents, according to the sheriff’s office.

They have been placed on routine administrative leave while an investigation is underway.

Portions of video captured by St. John’s and Sanchez’s body cameras and released later Tuesday show the man jumping back and forth behind the worship center’s gate and holding something in his right hand. He doesn’t respond when one of the deputies asks his name or what he’s holding. One deputy says it may be “a shard of glass or a knife.”

“Whatever’s in your hand, drop it,” Sanchez says.

“No,” the man replies.

The video shows the man kicking open the gate and advancing toward the deputies while waving the object in his hand. A third deputy who responded, Kristen Davis, deploys the BolaWrap and St. John hits the man with a Taser, but he continues to advance with the object in his hand raised near his head, the video shows. He pauses briefly, then continues to advance while waving his arms.

One deputy orders the man to get down.

“You’re going to get shot if you don’t stop!” Sanchez says as he aims his pistol at the man and walks backward on the frontage road toward the interstate wall. “You’re going to get shot, I don’t want to have to shoot you, stay back.”

The man pauses again and takes several steps backward as deputies continue to order him to stay back and to “drop the knife.”

The videos show the man advancing directly toward Sanchez while holding the object above his head. Sanchez walks backward and continues to order the man to drop the object. Sanchez then fires as the man nears him. By that point, Sanchez’s back is nearly against the interstate wall.

Chronister said that the deputies showed professionalism and restraint and that the body camera video could be used in future training.

“They exhausted every option to preserve this individual’s life prior to this fatal outcome,” Chronister said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting as part of an agreement with the sheriff’s office.

A voicemail message left at the Divine Mercy Prayer Center was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

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