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Collier County's Use of Force Training Simulator
Collier County's Use of Force Training Simulator: Marisa Kendall, of news-press.com, experiences the Collier County Use of Force Simulator. Video by Jack Hardman/news-press.com
Cape Coral councilman John Carioscia Sr., was a cop in Chicago for 35 years. He fired at a suspect who pointed a shotgun at him during an incident almost 30 years ago, but he missed. / Andrew West/news-press.com
Cpl. Uriel Roman, of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, was shot in the shoulder while working undercover in 1991. / Jack Hardman/news-press.com

Fort Myers Police Department officer-involved shooting policy

After an officer discharges a firearm, he or she must determine the condition of any injured people and request necessary emergency medical aid. The officer must then notify the dispatcher of the incident and location, and remain at the scene until investigators arrive. The officer must submit his or her weapons for examination, and pending an investigation, the officer is not permitted to discuss the case with anyone except investigators, legal counsel, a psychologist or clergy.

The Fort Myers Police Department Standards Bureau and Florida Department of Law Enforcement review all officer shootings that result in injury. The state attorney’s office reviews the FDLE determination and gives a final ruling.

An officer involved in a shooting is placed on administrative leave until his or her use of force is deemed justified.

Other Southwest Florida departments have similar policies.

Cpl. Uriel Roman, of the Collier County Sherrif's Department, points to an image of the crime scene from the night he was shot while working undercover. Roman put together a scrapbook of images chronicling his experiences after the shooting. / Jack Hardman/news-press.com

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Captain Dennis Eads has fired his gun once in 26 years with the Fort Myers Police Department — and he never wants to do it again.

“It’s not a fun experience,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody says. It’s not like the TV movies depict it.”

Trigger-happy TV cops have led many to mistakenly believe firing a weapon is an everyday part of an officer’s job, Eads said.

But records from local law enforcement agencies show officers in Southwest Florida rarely fire their weapons. When they do, a News-Press analysis reveals, it’s usually in response to an animal.

From 2009-2012, officers engaged in 142 shooting incidents while on duty with the Fort Myers and Cape Coral police departments and Lee and Collier county sheriff’s offices. There are about 1,601 sworn officers in those agencies, meaning there were about nine shootings for every 100 officers. In 24 shooting cases, officers fired at human suspects, and in 111 they fired at aggressive or injured animals. The remaining shootings were accidental, or their nature is unknown pending an investigation.

Eads fired his one shot while serving a search warrant. He was in the doorway, about to enter the home, when the suspect fired at him. Eads was propelled by instinct — he fired back. Both missed. It was over in two seconds.

“It’s a very startling, scary feeling, but at the time, the being scared part doesn’t necessarily kick in until later,” Eads said. “It finally hits you that — hey, this could have been the last day of my life.”

Officers such as Eads, who have occasion to fire on the job, are the exception, according to Laurence Miller, a Boca Raton psychologist specializing in officer-involved shootings.

“Most police officers … go through their entire careers without ever firing their weapon,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of police work involves dealing with mundane, everyday citizen issues.”

Collier County Corporal Uriel Roman remembers the exact time, down to the minute, a shooting forever changed how he does his job. Now he’s more on edge — more aware of every potential threat.

(Page 2 of 3)

It was 8:23 p.m., Feb. 18, 1991. Roman was conducting an undercover crack cocaine buy when the drug dealers, intent on robbing him, dragged him out of his van and beat him. He ducked just in time to avoid a bullet to the head.

Instead of his head, the bullet entered the back of his shoulder, fractured his right arm and tore his rotator cuff. In the stress of the situation, Roman didn’t hear the shot and thought he had been hit by a bat. He fired his 9 mm handgun, missed because of his injury, and the suspects fled.

Roman never entertained the idea he wouldn’t make it out of the confrontation alive. Other thoughts ran through his head while he tried to calculate how to break his attacker’s wrist and knock the gun away.

“Going home. Mommy,” he said with a strained laugh. “Going home to your kids and your wife.”

After the suspects fled, Roman headed to a nearby bar for information on his attackers. Adrenaline dulled the pain of his injury, and he still didn’t realize he had been shot. Roman took the bartender into custody because he wasn’t cooperating, and as Roman was cuffing him, he felt pain emerge in his right shoulder.

“There’s all blood down the inside of my shirt,” he said. “And I felt my shoulder and I could feel the bullet ... then things got a little blurrier.”

Roman never fired his gun before that day, and hasn’t since.

After effects

Officers forced to fire on the job can face psychological effects once it’s all over, Miller said.

“It really is a stressful and devastating situation,” Eads said, “and it changes the lives of everyone involved.”

Many of the officers Miller has counseled deal with a few days of stress, sleep loss, bad dreams and second-guessing their actions.

“The overwhelming majority of officers recover from the incident in a matter of days,” Miller said.

Cape Coral Councilman John Carioscia Sr., a former police officer, chose not to think about what could have happened if a shooting 20 years ago ended differently. Like Eads and Roman, Carioscia fired his gun only once in his 35-year career with the Chicago Police Department. He was stepping out of his car in a high-crime area of Chicago when he saw a gang shooting in an empty lot.

(Page 3 of 3)

Carioscia drew his revolver.

“One of the offenders with a shotgun (came) running out of the vacant lot toward me,” he said.

The suspect pointed the gun at Carioscia and Carioscia fired, from 50-75 feet away. He missed, which he says is fortunate because he never wanted to shoot anyone. The suspect dropped the gun and ran.

Carioscia’s first thought was about what he could do next to catch the suspect. It was back to work — he didn’t let himself become emotional.

“If you’re going to sit there and lament on the should have, would have, could have,” Caprioscia said, “police work is not for you.”

To shoot or not to shoot

After an officer-involved shooting, it’s easy for the community and media to question the officer’s actions, according to Susan Saxe-Clifford, a Los Angeles police psychologist.

“There’s sometimes a false idea that an officer can shoot somebody in the foot,” Saxe-Clifford said, “or shoot up into the air, or put a big net over somebody.”

Officers are not trained to fire warning shots, Eads said. They fire only with the intention of stopping whatever threat is coming at them.

Fort Myers Police Department policy gives officers the right to use deadly force to protect themselves or others from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of serious physical injury or death.

While department policy gives officers broad guidelines, the ultimate decision of when to shoot is up to the officer, Eads said.

To hone that decision-making ability, Collier County deputies train annually using an electronic simulator. Facing a floor-to-ceiling projection screen, a deputy armed with a modified handgun navigates deadly-force scenarios. The goal is to make deputies less of a target, Sgt. Fletch Fuller, high liability training coordinator with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, said.

“What we don’t want people to do is go into what we call the black,” Fuller said, “which is when they totally freeze up.”

Holding back

An officer must respond to deadly force with deadly force, nothing else can stop that threat, Eads said.

“You don’t take pepper spray to a gunfight,” he said. “Or a Taser.”

But even when faced with the threat of death or injury, many officers will not shoot, Fuller said. Sometimes they are in denial of how dangerous the situation has become. Other times they don’t want to deal with the legal consequences and media scrutiny that follow a shooting.

Eads remembers one incident in which he decided not to pull the trigger.

He was attempting to make an arrest when the suspect reached for a gun. Eads had no way of knowing whether the suspect was about to shoot him or was trying to get rid of the gun — but either way, Eads knew he would have been justified in shooting.

Instead — in the split-second he had available — Eads decided to use his hands to grab and subdue the suspect.

The confrontation ended well, but Eads won’t say he made the right choice.

“The bottom line is the officers,” he said. “They need to go home.”

Other Southwest Florida departments have similar policies.

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