Deputy shoots, kills woman who was holding ‘BB-style rifle,’ Nassau sheriff says

HILLIARD, Fla. – A deputy shot and killed a woman Wednesday in Nassau County as investigators responded to an early morning call about a domestic disturbance, Sheriff Bill Leeper said during a news conference.

According to Leeper, the call came in at 2:14 a.m. on Barbara Lane in reference to someone who was threatening to harm herself, and they learned she’d left the property when they arrived. Deputies searched the property, and they located her in thick brush, Leeper said.

The sheriff said deputies tried talking to her to get her to surrender peacefully, and one deputy noticed she had a “dark barreled rifle in her hands.” At one point, Leeper said, she appeared to point the weapon in the direction of a deputy, and he said that’s when a deputy fired a shot, striking her. She died at the scene.

Leeper said investigators determined the rifle she was holding was a “BB-style rifle.” The sheriff said due to the darkness, it appeared to be an actual rifle. No deputies were injured, Leeper said.

“Nobody wants to do this,” Leeper said during a news conference. “It’s traumatic for everyone. It’s unfortunate someone died. But I’m thankful that deputies are not hurt. But it’s not something we look forward to doing. But they have to protect themselves. And that’s just what he was doing.”

The woman was identified as Donna Dale, 47, of Hilliard. Family members shared a photo of her with News4JAX. They said she was a mother of three children.

“She had a very good heart and she will be sorely missed,” said Marlena Michel, her sister.

Amber Stoner, Dale’s niece, said she and another family member were standing on the porch.

“We could hear everything transpire when they were out there with her. We heard her talking, kind of mouthing, they were talking to her too, and then we started to go inside, we didn’t hear a ‘don’t’ or whatever, just all of a sudden, a shot and then silence,” Stoner said.

Leeper said Dale was involved in a crash Tuesday, in which she was cited for careless driving, and he also noted that deputies responded to Dale’s residence a month ago in reference to a domestic incident. In that incident, Leeper said, she made threatening statements to her family, and she was tasered by a deputy when she grabbed scissors and raised them at her father. The sheriff said she was taken into custody under the Baker Act.

“It could’ve been prevented,” said Michel. “The officer could’ve Baker Acted her or arrested her and she would be alive right now.”

Dale’s background includes arrests for domestic battery, attempted murder, aggravated battery and five domestic violence injunctions.

The family is asking the Sheriff’s Office to release body camera footage from the incident. The Sheriff’s Office said that will happen after approval from the state attorney’s office.

The deputy involved was identified as Christian Copher, who has been with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office since 2015, Leeper said. He’ll be on administrative leave until he’s cleared to return to work. FDLE and the state attorney’s office will conduct an independent investigation.

The family has created a fundraising site. If you would like to donate, click here.

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad