JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The man shot and killed by a police officer early Thursday morning after refusing to drop a knife inside a Gate gas station has a history of violence and was forced to have a psychiatric evaluation two months ago, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.
An officer responding to the store on Emerson Street just before 7 a.m. to a 911 call about a man with a knife mumbling and acting combative inside the store said the suspect was behind the counter when he arrived, and employees and 10 or more customers were evacuating the building.
Officer Richard Santoro pulled his service weapon and ordered 38-year-old Jerry Marrero to put down the knife and get on the floor, according to Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Assistant Chief Chris Butler. Instead, Marrero put the knife in his front pocket and started to get out, then popped back up, retrieved the knife and told the officer he wasn't allowed to pull his gun on a man with a knife, Butler said.
Butler said when Marrero appeared to threaten the officer, Santoro fired six shots, then called the rescue workers waiting inside to give first aid.
"The cop told him to drop the knife and he wouldn’t. The cop told him several times and then the cop screamed for everyone to get out," said Stephen Carlton, who saw the confrontation inside the store. "Right when I got to the door, he shot him right in the chest."
Marrero was taken to the hospital, where he died. Santoro was not injured.
Butler said Marrero (pictured, right, from 2005 arrest in Jacksonville) has a history of arrests, including on charges of sexual assault, kidnapping, child abuse and violation of probation. There were also protective injunctions taken out against Marrero by his wife and ex-boyfriend.
Santoro has been with the Sheriff's Office for 21 years and this was his third officer-involved shooting. He will be placed on administrative leave, pending the investigation, per Sheriff's Office protocol.
Butler defended the officer's use of a gun instead of a Taser.
"Within a fraction of a second, the subject could have lashed out and harmed the officer," Butler said. "A knife is definitely life-threatening. ... If I have a knife and I am 4 to 5 feet away from (someone), I can easily take a step and cut him."
"I took about a step or two and I’ve seen him move towards the cop," said Caressa Culvahouse, was shopping in the store at the time. "He would not stay turned around and the cop shot five times. He fell to the ground on the third shot."
The eyewitness told News4Jax he hear the man tell the clerk he needed to call the police.
"I didn’t know what he was doing with the knife because he didn’t have a hostage. He wasn’t screaming. He was sitting there waiting for the cops," Carlton said. "I didn’t think he was going to be shot. I thought he would be arrested.”
Butler said the store surveillance video showed Marrero walking around the store with the knife, sometimes hiding if from customers.
Santoro was not wearing a body camera. Butler said the cameras were rolled out in zones in the Northside and Westside first and have yet to be issued to officers who patrol the Southside area.
One of the prior shootings Santoro was involved in was in 2010 in Baymeadows, when he and four other officers shot and killed a bank robbery suspect who was trying to carjack a woman. In that shooting, the woman and her young son were wounded. Santoro was cleared by the investigation of that shooting.
Santoro was named Officer of the Month three times during his 21-year career with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, but his personnel record also shows a number of policy violations, including not being truthful about one of his police vehicle crashes, not following word standards, missing a court appearance and mishandling of property during off-duty employment.
As for the Gate station, company spokesperson Eden Clark said employees are trained for emergencies.
"You obviously don’t know what’s going to happen when a situation occurs," Clark said. "Our staff here was able to assist to make sure everybody was safe."
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