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Inquiry clears U.S. marshal in shooting

TAMPA — A U.S. marshal accidentally shot a man last month after colliding with him during a foot chase.

That's according to an 83-page report released by Florida Department of Law Enforcement Tuesday afternoon.

David Christopher Sills, 26, was wanted on outstanding drug warrants when members of the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force caught up with him at the Club at Hidden River Condominiums on Oct. 16.

But when Sills saw an officer with his gun drawn, he ran west into the woods behind the condominiums, the report states.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Keith Vinski was one of several who ran after him.

Vinski, a former Navy SEAL who has served 13 years with the U.S. Marshals Service, told FDLE investigators he had his Glock Model 23 drawn in his right hand as he ran.

The pursuing officers yelled at Sills several times to stop, according to the report. But Sills kept running through the woods, Vinski told the FDLE.

Sills fell at least twice, the officers told the FDLE. And each time Sills got up, Vinski said, he reached one hand into the waistband of his pajama pants.

The second time Vinski saw Sills get up from falling, he expected the fugitive to run.

"Instead, Sills got to his feet and assumed a crouched position facing Vinski," who ran at Sills "at full speed" to try to tackle him, the report said.

Just before the two men collided, Sills turned from him and Vinski crashed into his back.

Vinski's Glock fired. The two fell down together. The gun flew from Vinski's grip to the ground about 5 feet away.

Vinski said he yelled to the other officers, signaling that the gunfire had been an accident, but he didn't know who heard him.

Sills kept struggling, the report says. Deputy Marshal Ron Lindback used his Taser on Sills to subdue him, enabling his eventual arrest.

Interviews with the FDLE indicate neither Vinski nor Sills recognized right away that Sills had been injured.

The bullet entered his back on the right side and exited his shoulder. A doctor characterized the injury as superficial, according to a statement in the FDLE report.

Afterward, Vinski told investigators he felt embarrassed and stressed by the incident.

"An accidental firearm discharge was an unacceptable mistake for a SEAL," the report said, summarizing Vinski's words.

Despite the accidental nature of the shooting, Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober found no fault with what he called "the unfortunate use of force." In a Nov. 13 letter, Ober said his office reviewed the shooting and found it to be justified.

Last month Sills told the Times he had been unarmed at the time of the shooting.

Nothing in the FDLE report indicates otherwise, though Vinski repeatedly described seeing Sills reach to his waistband.

Prior to the operation to arrest Sills, a former informant for the Tampa police, officers had been warned that he could be armed.

The only things an FDLE crime scene investigator reported recovering from the shooting scene were a bloody white T-shirt, a black cell phone ear piece, nine quarters in a stack and a Motorola Razr cell phone.

Sills remains in custody without bail at Orient Road Jail on multiple charges of drug trafficking and obstructing or opposing an officer.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Inquiry clears U.S. marshal in shooting 11/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 8:10pm]
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