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St. Petersburg officer cleared in shooting death

ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has cleared St. Petersburg police Sgt. Karl Lounge in the fatal Nov. 16 shooting of a distraught man armed with a machete and a .45-caliber pistol.

The sergeant "was in the lawful performance of his legal duties when he discharged his weapon at Roberto Garcia-Lara," State Attorney Bernie McCabe wrote in a letter to police Chief Charles "Chuck" Harmon. Lounge "had reason to believe that Roberto Garcia-Lara posed a danger … when he fired his weapon."

Garcia-Lara, 46, had been a successful doctor in Cuba when he arrived in this country in 1999. But his life quickly fell apart. An injury cost him his job as a certified nursing assistant and a 2005 accident on the Howard Frankland Bridge left him in constant pain.

The state attorney's investigation detailed the events that led to Garcia-Lara's death:

The night he died, he fired the pistol inside his bedroom, setting off the alarm system about 8:30 p.m. His new wife, Alice Garcia-Lara, told the security company her husband had a gun to his head.

St. Petersburg police arrived to find his wife outside, crying. She told officers that her husband had served in the Cuban military and had been drinking.

Officers took her to safety and saw Roberto Garcia-Lara armed, then heard him chamber a round. They requested back-up and a "long gun," an automatic rifle.

Lounge arrived armed with a Colt AR-15 automatic rifle. The sergeant said Garcia-Lara looked at him "several times." Then Garcia-Lara stepped outside a doorway, armed with a machete and his gun, and leveled the pistol at the sergeant, Lounge said.

Four other officers also said they saw Garcia-Lara aim at the sergeant, the report said. Lounge, "believing his life was in danger," fired three shots, hitting Garcia-Lara in the abdomen and pelvis, the report said. Garcia-Lara died at 11:45 p.m. at Bayfront Medical Center.

The medical examiner determined found that Garcia-Lara had prescription drugs and antidepressants in his system, along with a blood-alcohol level of 0.19. Florida law presumes impairment at 0.08.

Lounge is still the subject of an internal police investigation. When that report is completed the chief will hold a shooting review board, most likely in January.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg officer cleared in shooting death 12/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 12:02pm]
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