Former sheriff weighs in on how police react when confronted at gunpoint

Rick Beseler was investigator for SAO before he was Clay County sheriff

An investigation is underway into a police-involved shooting early Tuesday morning. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said six officers opened fire, killing an armed man who had locked himself inside a pickup truck in a supermarket parking lot.

As questions remain about the shooting, a former sheriff who used to investigate these types of cases provided perspective as to how police react when confronted at gunpoint. 

Jacksonville police said they tried to get the man out of the truck and deployed a stun gun twice during the 25-minute standoff before they said they saw the man rolling over toward officers with a gun in his hand. Six officers opened fire and the man was hit multiple times, according to JSO. The man died at the scene.

Former Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler used to investigate police-involved shootings when he worked for the state attorney's office in Jacksonville before he was sheriff. He is not involved in this case, but said in his 42 years of experience, he has not seen a case in which officers fired their weapons just because another officer has. 

"It’s got to be that you can articulate that there was a threat that you personally observed, not just that you saw your partner firing at a target so you started firing," Beseler said. "I’m not going to say it couldn’t happen, but I have never personally seen that."

There have been some questions in the past about that happening in Jacksonville. In 2010, five JSO officers converged on a parking lot on Baymeadows Road, where they said Jeremiah Mathis had just robbed a bank. Police said was trying to carjack a woman and her two children. He was still outside the car when the first officer started shooting. The five officers fired a total of 42 shots.

Mathis was hit 13 times and was dead at the scene. Twenty-eight bullets hit the car, leaving the woman and one child wounded. Miraculously, their wounds were not too serious.

The shooting was ruled justifiable by the state attorney’s office. Two of the officers, facing an Internal Affairs investigation, resigned. One of them had fired 24 rounds, including after reloading, even after the first officer yelled there were hostages in the car.

The woman in the car, JoAnn Cooper, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against JSO. It was dismissed in 2012. 

2010 file image

Also in Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has made it clear that if a gun is drawn on police, officers will react.

"You start pointing guns at us, you cannot only plan on, but you can guarantee, we’re going to shoot you," Judd said.

Beseler adds when multiple officers fire at a suspect, there is a reason behind it.

"There have been many situations where multiple officers fired at one target simply because you never know if your partner’s shot is going to disable the assailant from his vantage point or trajectory, so you fire yourself," he said.

It's still unknown exactly how many shots were fired by police in Tuesday's shooting. 

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.