MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – A Miami Gardens officer who started his career in Jacksonville was ambushed and shot Friday morning while sitting in his patrol car writing a crash report, Miami Gardens Police Chief Antonio Brooklen said.
Officer David Starling was struck once, but he got on his police radio, called for backup and began to pursue the SUV, Brooklen said. Starling was taken to Aventura Hospital for surgery.
Starling's father, David “Leroy” Starling Sr., told News4Jax surgery was a success. Starling is expected to make a full recovery.
Doctors said the bullet would have hit Starling's spine had it gone half an inch in another direction.
Starling Sr. said his family got a phone call early Friday morning about what happened. He said he's having trouble grasping why someone would do this to his son, who's known to the family as “Buddy.”
“It's just about a daily thing – Baltimore, I could go on – where for no reason, no motivation whatsoever, police officers are – their vehicles are shot into, they're shot at, and I just don't understand the thinking of people,” Leroy Starling said.
The shooting happened near Northwest 183rd Street and Northwest Seventh Avenue.
Brooklen said Starling was filling out the report when a black BMW sport utility vehicle passed by and the driver "backed up and ambushed the officer."
As other officers joined the pursuit, the suspect, later identified as David Mejia, 24, opened fire at them, Brooklen said.
The SUV crashed at Northwest 183rd Street and Northwest 32nd Avenue, Brooklen said. Mejia ran off but was later caught in a nearby backyard, Brooklen said.
"None of our officers discharged any weapon because we didn't have an opportunity to," Brooklen said. "The officer was ambushed."
Dade County Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera spoke to News4Jax sister station WPLG-TV after visiting Starling in the hospital.
"He's in good spirits," Rivera said. "He's a little angry. He's a little concerned. He's also concerned for his fellow officers."
Rivera said Starling was shot in the buttocks. Starling's family said if the bullet had entered just over a inch in another direction, it would have struck his spine.
"The streets are mean," he said. "Miami-Dade County is a violent, violent place to work and to live and to play."
Leroy Starling said he's proud of his son.
“He just seems to have a nose for what's going on,” he said. “He seems to be at the right place at the right time, or in this case, the wrong place, but I'm very proud of him.”
Starling worked for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office from September 1989 to November 1999.
JSO Director of Personnel Michelle Cook, who worked with Starling during his time in Jacksonville, called him "an officer's officer and a good man."
JSO released a statement Friday, saying the department is grateful that Starling is expected to make a complete physical recovery.
“It is dangerous out there, especially for those who have chosen to protect this country and its citizens," Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said in a statement. "That shouldn’t be the case, but it is the sad truth. We stand with our brothers and sisters in law enforcement, in the Miami area and throughout this country, as we work to remain vigilant and continue our work to serve and protect in partnership with the law abiding members of our communities."
WPLG learned that the FBI visited the Miami Gardens Police Department to question Mejia about the possibility that the shooting was a terrorist act. This comes just a few weeks after a suspect in the shooting of a Philadelphia police officer claimed he was acting in the name of Islam.