Police officer shoots, wounds armed veteran after rampage

Friday's police-involved shooting is 9th this year in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An armed veteran who has had previous run-ins with the law was shot and wounded by a Jacksonville police officer after a series of hit-and-runs that ended with a crash Friday afternoon on the Wonderwood Bridge in the Mayport area, authorities said.

Steven Smith, 32, is expected to survive after he was shot twice by Officer A. Will, Assistant Chief Scott Dingee announced at Friday evening. 

At 4:41 p.m., two 911 calls came in about hit-and-run incidents on Nesting Eagles Way, where residents said a man was driving recklessly -- hitting mailboxes, poles and trees, Dingee said.

Two minutes later, Dingee said, a third 911 caller reported a mentally ill man who was posing a threat to the caller's relative on nearby Blue Eagle Way East near Girvin Road in East Arlington.

Based on the description of the vehicle involved in the hit-and-runs and information from the third 911 call, officers recognized the man as someone with whom they had interacted in the past because of issues related to his mental health, Dingee said. 

At 4:47 p.m., a fourth 911 call was placed about a crash on the eastbound side of the Wonderwood Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. Police said one of the vehicles involved in the crash appeared to be the same one involved in the previous three incidents.

When police arrived at the bridge, they found several vehicles stopped in the roadway, including a gray Ford Explorer that had rear-ended a red SUV, Dingee said. There were also two people trying to help the driver, who was identified as Smith, inside the damaged Explorer, Dingee said.

Those witnesses told police that Smith was alert but looked disoriented, and wouldn't respond to them.

"The officers then had the civilians move out of the way, back to an area of safety, and they began to issue loud, verbal commands to the driver, Mr. Smith, to exit his vehicle," Dingee said.

Several minutes later at 5:14 p.m., Dingee said, Smith got out of the Explorer, armed with a small handgun. When he approached the officers and civilians, Will fired his agency-issued 9 mm handgun twice, striking Smith in the chest and in the arm area, according to the JSO. 

Rescue personnel performed first aid and then took Smith to the hospital, where he underwent surgery. At last check, Smith was in intensive care with non-life-threatening injuries, Dingee said. 

Dingee said that while being transported, Smith told rescue personnel that he wanted to die. 

No officers or civilians were injured.

Investigators said a firearm was recovered at the scene and the Wonderwood Bridge was shut down for several hours. 

Authorities said potential charges will be made after investigations. 

Former JSO Officer James Brown spoke with News4Jax about Will's use of force in similar incidents. 

"Police aren't there to purposely try and kill someone," Brown said. "But it's been shown in the past that perpetrators and suspects, even after receiving nonsurvivable wounds, are still able to cause damage to the community, and, or, go on and shoot officers that are responding."

Court records show Smith was arrested on Sept. 19 on two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and one count of domestic battery. According to that arrest report, Smith's wife called police to say he was throwing furniture and was beating her.  She told officers she was in fear of her life and grabbed a gun and fired a shot into the ceiling, which caused him to leave. He returned home while the officers were there, and they wrote that he drove his pickup truck through the yard at them.

The wife told police she was afraid Smith was going to kill himself, and the report noted that he yelled, "Just shoot me," before he was subdued.

On Oct. 17, he was referred to a pretrial intervention program for military veterans. He was out on bail Friday but was due to be back in court later this month. 

News4Jax spoke with one of Smith's neighbors, who said he believes Smith suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Dingee said there was no body camera or surveillance footage available for investigators. The Sheriff's Office said Will was placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated.

According to News4Jax records, there have been nine shootings this year involving Jacksonville officers. 

About the Authors:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.