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BWC: Man attempts to flee with Fla. deputy inside vehicle before fatal OIS

The deputy can be seen deploying his TASER at the man and commanding him to stop the car before the shooting; the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has defended the deputy’s actions as necessary

By Bethany Barnes
Tampa Bay Times

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A deputy fatally shot a 40-year-old man after a fight inside a moving vehicle near Hudson on Saturday evening, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities identified the man Sunday morning as Paul Smith, 40. The sheriff’s office identified the deputy as Christopher Howell. Authorities would not immediately release further information about Howell.

Around 5:30 p.m., Howell, on duty, approached Smith outside a 7-Eleven gas station near U.S. 19 and New York Avenue, according to the sheriff’s office. Howell believed Smith to be a suspect in a recent battery case, and asked him to speak with him.

The sheriff’s office released body-worn camera footage of the incident, which the Times reviewed. The video shows Howell walked up to Smith, who was parked at a gas pump. The deputy said “Hey Paul” several times and told him to step out of his car.

At that point, video shows Smith, who had been standing and leaning into his vehicle, sat down in the driver’s seat, gripped the wheel and asked “What’s the matter?” as Howell grabbed Smith’s forearm. The deputy repeatedly told Smith to get out of the car. Smith remained in the driver’s seat and kept asking what was going on, before starting the car.

Footage then shows the deputy is inside the vehicle as Smith starts driving. It is unclear how Howell ended up inside the vehicle.

Throughout the incident, the deputy repeatedly screamed at Smith to get out of the car, the footage shows. Howell can be seen using a Taser on the driver while tires are heard screeching.

Eventually, Howell yelled, “Stop the car, you’re going to get shot.” Video shows Howell pointing his gun at Smith while he is behind the driver.

At a news conference, Pasco spokesperson Col. Jeff Harrington defended Howell’s actions as necessary.

Pasco records show several criminal convictions against a Paul Smith in that county, including battery and drug charges. Smith was convicted in 2019 of fleeing law enforcement by car, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and hit-and-run, and served three years in state prison.

That incident made news at the time, as law enforcement released video of deputies arresting Smith, who was found submerged in a swamp, covered in mud.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which helps agencies investigate incidents where officers use force, was on the scene Saturday night and is investigating the matter.

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