Prosecutor: Fatal Police Shootings Justified, But Two Were Unnecessary

Published On: Oct 14 2011 02:32:15 PM EDT   Updated On: Apr 13 2007 05:13:31 AM EDT

State Attorney Harry Shorstein announced on Friday that Jacksonville police officers were justified in three police-involved shootings in January, but he questioned whether two of the killings were necessary.

Douglas Woods, Isaac Singletary and Harry Shuler died as a result of shootings by Jacksonville Sheriff's Office deputies in three-week period.

"Even though the evidence does not in any way suggest a criminal act on the part of the law enforcement officers, nevertheless, the deaths of Mr. Shuler and Mr. Singletary, in my opinion, could have been avoided," Shorstein said.

Singletary, 80, was shot and killed Jan. 27 in an exchange of gunfire as he confronted two undercover officers in the yard of his home on Westmont Street, just off Philips Highway.

The prosecutor said Singletary had no previous arrest record and was known by the undercover officers as a "police-friendly person."

"The death of a law-abiding citizen should not have happened," said Shorstein, who pointed out that reverse sting operations are controversial in law enforcement.

"I urge you to re-evaluate this tactic," he said in a letter to Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford.

Shorstein said it was hard for him to believe that a law-abiding citizen would want to shoot a police officer. He questioned whether police had identified themselves properly to him.

Shuler, 65, was shot after a standoff with a SWAT team at Shuler's parents' home on Gilchrist Road on the Northside. Investigators said Shuler was released from a psychiatric facility a few weeks before the incident.

Shorstein said Shuler was in the process of surrendering when police rushed him. Officers said he ran back up a ramp into toward his home, grabbed a shotgun and pointed it at officers and they fired, killing him.

"If police would have taken no aggressive action, it appears very clear that the confrontation would have ended without anyone firing a weapon," Shorstein's report said.

He also said more qualified mental health professionals should have been called to help deal with Shuler.

Woods, 18, was shot Jan. 20 at Sabal Palms Apartments on Emerson Street by an undercover narcotics officer who said Woods had a gun and tried to rob them.

After reviewing Shorstein's reports, Rutherford issued a statement that said the conclusion of the state attorney's investigation concurs with his department's initial on-scene findings and opens the way for internal reviews by the sheriff's office.

"We conduct our investigations ... using a team of the most seasoned homicide detectives and tactical experts," Rutherford said. "The final step is our Response to Resistance Board review. We look for any violations of orders, procedures and training. It is a transparent and thorough process."

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