Actions of 24 Jacksonville officers ruled justified in 14 shootings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The State Attorney’s Office has ruled that the actions of 24 Jacksonville police officers were justified in 14 shootings, some of which occurred just a few months ago.

The SAO had been meeting for months to consider the circumstances of the shootings. It sent out letters to the 24 officers dated Aug. 20.

Here is a list of the 14 shootings:

Nov. 1, 2018: Tony Smith Jr., 24, who was suspected in a carjacking, was shot and killed by Officer Rodney DeConti at the Hilltop Apartments on West 45th Street. Police said Smith and three other men had robbed and beaten an elderly man at a car wash on Lem Turner, then fled toward the apartments.

Nov. 16, 2018: Tyrone Buckman, 30, was shot and wounded while running from a traffic stop at 1405 Melson Ave. Police said Buckman was a passenger in the car and got out with a gun in his hand. During a foot pursuit, he was shot by Officer J.A. Ledyard.

March 5, 2019: Six JSO officers opened fire on 32-year-old Antonio Valentine, who was armed inside a truck parked at the Harvey’s Supermarket on Arlington Road. Police said he refused to get out of the truck. Officers broke two windows and used stun guns on him, to no effect.

Police said when Valentine grabbed a gun, they fired 21 shots, killing him. He was hit seven times by Lt. R.W. Beltz, Officer M.S. Alumurung, Officer D.M. Cochrane, Officer T.W. Hogan, Officer J.E. Stillwell and Officer M.L. Propper.

March 14, 2019: Jerry Marrero, 38, was shot and killed by Officer Richard Santoro. Police said Marrero walked into the Gate Gas Station on Emerson Street with a knife in hand and was muttering unintelligibly as he walked around the store. At one point, he emptied a motor oil container onto the floor, and the clerks were worried he might start a fire, investigators said.

He walked to the cash register, and then around the counter to where the clerks were. When Santoro ordered him to drop the knife, Marrero turned toward Santoro, who fired six times, killing him.

June 15, 2019: Elijah Davis was shot multiple times during a JSO undercover investigation into a series of set-up armed robberies. Police said they responded to one near the Foot Locker on Lem Turner Road, and 18-year-old Ejon Davis and 22-year-old Elijah Davis approached the officers and were ordered to surrender.

Ejon Davis surrendered, but Elijah Davis started running and was shot by Officer Kyle Semones, who fired eight times, striking Elijah Davis multiple times, police said. He survived the shooting. Both men had a handgun in their possession, investigators said.

Nov. 13, 2019: Christopher Ervie was fatally shot at his home on Chesapeake Lane. Officers went there on a call of a suicide attempt by an armed man. Police said Ervie was inside the doorway with a knife and refused to drop it. Officers used a stun gun, which investigators said had no effect. When Ervie raised the knife, investigators said, Officer B.L. Kelly fired one shot.

Investigators said Ervie died at the hospital. JSO had been to the house Sept. 2, and Ervie came out as SWAT was assembling. His sister said he’d been dealing with depression.

Nov. 20, 2019: Timothy Lagonia, 35, was shot and critically wounded by Officer R.A. Lind on Hawthorne Street. Police were called to the home to check on a suspicious person and found Lagonia, who was wanted in a recent burglary.

Investigators said Lagonia ran, was tasered and fell down, but was not subdued. According to police, another officer approaching him also fell down, and when Lagonia pulled a knife, Lind fired three shots. Lagonia was hospitalized in critical condition.

Clara Sturgis, the grandmother to Lagonia’s children, spoke to News4Jax after learning of the ruling by the State Attorney’s Office.

“I understand you have to have that to protect your life. But at the same time, on the other end of that gun, is a human being, too,” Sturgis said.

Lagonia survived, but Surgis said he is now in a wheelchair for the rest of his life and is serving time in jail.

Dec. 19, 2019: Police said Leroy Edwards, 58, who had just shot two men, killing one at a Baldwin truck stop, was shot and wounded in an exchange of gunfire with JSO. Investigators said the trucker was in his semi on I-10 when he fired at Officers S. Hackney, R. Winfree and J. Dowling, hitting their cruisers.

Jan. 5, 2020: Kwame Jones, 17, was killed, and Joseph Carter, 18, was wounded by JSO Officer N.E. Lawson, after a traffic crash at West 45th Street and Moncrief Road.

JSO was chasing the car, investigators said, after it was seeing going up Moncrief in the wrong direction, driven by Bobby Whitty, 17. Police said there was a verbal exchange, and Lawson fired. According to investigators, a rifle was found in the car.

Jan. 21, 2020: Reginald Boston Jr., 20, was killed and a second man was wounded in a shooting that grew out of an undercover operation on Harts Road. Police said the suspects had robbed someone at a meeting that was arranged to sell a cellphone.

According to investigators, officers called that number to set up another meet, and one of the suspects pulled a gun. Officers Robert Crotty, Alex Hinton and Cary Cowan each fired shots.

Feb. 22, 2020: John Robert Ritter, 39, was shot after police said he tried to rob a store with a butcher knife. Investigators said there was a foot chase with police and that a stun gun was deployed but was not successful. Investigators said Officer T. Davis fired one shot. Ritter was transported to the hospital in stable condition.

April 11, 2020: Kyon Wilkes, 24, was shot and wounded on Playa Way. It happened, investigators said, after a police pursuit that started when Wilkes was spotted driving the wrong way on Arlington Expressway. According to police, when he got out of the car, he had a gun in hand, and Officer J.R. Matthews fired.

April 11, 2020: Leah Baker, 29, was shot to death on Golfair Boulevard by JSO Officer Meckling and Lt. J.C. Nobles. Police had gone to the house on a domestic call. Investigators said Baker stabbed Meckling in the arm with a butcher knife before the officers shot her.

May 26, 2020: John Dunaway, 61, of Ponte Vedra, got into a single-car crash on J. Turner Butler Boulevard near Hodges Boulevard. Investigators said Officer B. Ondriezek was checking on Dunaway, who became agitated and attacked the officer.

According to police, Ondriezek tasered Dunaway twice to no effect. Investigators said as Dunaway was running back to his car yelling that he has a gun, the officer fired twice, killing him. There was no gun found in the car. There was body camera video of the incident.

Now that the officers have been cleared, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s Response to Resistance Board will determine if the shootings were within departmental guidelines for the use of deadly force.

A statement from a spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office reads:

“To clarify, our notification to the Sheriff’s Office was not that these cases were “closed,” but that our officer involved critical incident team had convened on these cases and rendered an opinion as to whether the shooting was criminal, or not. We notified JSO of these decisions so that they can begin their internal administrative processes. Our officer-involved critical incident panel has been meeting regularly throughout 2020 to finalize our decisions in pending investigations. While we relayed many of these decisions on the same date, the decisions themselves were made over the course of multiple meetings. We are working to finalize the reports on these matters and will post them to our website as we issue them.”

David Chapman, Communications Director

Steve Zona, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Jacksonville, said in a prepared statement: “We are happy to see the rulings in these officer-involved shootings are being released. There is a process in place based on facts/evidence and we support that process. We are thankful this process will now be expedited going forward as it is good for our officers and the community as a whole.”

Editor’s Note: The original numbers from this article were increased and five more cases were added after News4Jax learned they had also been cleared by the State Attorney’s Office.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor

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.