While a state attorney's review found a Jacksonville officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed 35-year-old man during a May 2012 traffic stop was justifiable, Sheriff John Rutherford is asking that the officer be terminated for violating department policy.
Police said Jeff Edwards shot and killed Davinian Williams after pulling him over for driving erratically in a known drug area around Bert and Rogero roads about 2:15 a.m. May 9, 2012.
A Jacksonville Sheriff's Office internal investigation found that Williams did not follow commands to show his hands or grip the steering wheel, and Edwards believed "there was a clear imminent threat against his life and that Williams had retrieved a weapon from the floorboard."
The three-year veteran officer fired seven shots, hitting Williams six times.
Police later found found cocaine and crack cocaine shoved into Williams' socks, but no weapon in his car.
A JSO Response to Resistance Board review found the shooting violated the department’s guidelines for the use of deadly force, that Edward should have waited for backup while taking a position behind his cruiser and that failure of a motorist to show his hands is not justification for shooting someone.
According to an Internal Affairs report obtained by Channel 4, Edwards ordered Williams to show his hands nine times over a period of one minute and 30 seconds. The report states, "Edwards had never experienced anyone continue to evade and ignore him, and his perception was that a gun battle was about to ensue."
After the internal review of the fatal shooting, Rutherford wrote that the use of deadly force was "without justification," and concluded that Edwards should be terminated.
Police faulted Edwards for not warning Williams he would shoot if he didn't show his hands. Edwards walked closer to the vehicle before firing, and according to the sheriff, that "increased his odds of overreacting to any sudden movements, and placed him at greater danger where a fatal error was likely."
"Edwards never saw a weapon and the driver never threatened him," Rutherford wrote. "Williams lunging toward the car door was more likely a sign of the man attempting to comply by placing his wallet and identification card on the car window’s edge. Edwards did not see the wallet as he had already determined in his mind that the suspect was committed to ambushing him with a handgun."
While Rutherford recommended termination, under union rules, Edwards is entitled to a termination hearing. According to Edwards' attorney, he will fight to keep his job because the state attorney found the shooting justifiable.
"Police officers are not mind readers, they can only evaluate a situation and look at a situation and make a decision based on immediate danger, and that's what Officer Edwards did," said Tad Delegal, Edwards' attorney.
Delegal said Edwards, a former Zone 1 Officer of the Year, shot Williams because he felt the suspect posed a threat to his life.
"It was very unfortunate, very tragic, but Officer Edwards was not responsible for that death, in that he took action to take necessary so he could come home to his family in his best estimation of the circumstances," Delegal said.
Williams' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in June.
"We didn't understand it. How could a person get killed and they didn't even have a weapon? And he never left the car," said Ricky Sumlar, a friend of Williams. "For me to hear the officer was found negligent, it makes me feel like justice really prevailed."