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Hernando deputies shoot, kill man they say torched a home over eviction

BROOKSVILLE — Anneliese Griffitts said the tenant threatened her, didn't maintain the home and failed to hold up his end of their bargain.

She decided he needed to leave.

"He forced me to," she said. "I couldn't put up with him anymore. He was a user."

First, she asked him. Then she turned to the courts.

That didn't sit well with James "Jim" Palmer, who claimed Griffitts had agreed to let him live rent-free as long as he took care of the homeless cats she brought him.

Faced with the imminent prospect of eviction, Palmer, 69, apparently decided to take matters into his own hands early Thursday. And it cost him his life.

About 7 a.m., he called 911.

He told authorities he was being evicted and threatened to "set the place on fire," according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies were dispatched to 6095 California St. to check on Palmer and assess the situation. Hernando Master Deputy Michael Beckwith and Deputy Aaron Cochrane were the first on scene, finding the home engulfed in flames.

Shortly after calling in the fire to dispatchers, shots rang out.

The details of the confrontation remained cloudy Thursday, with the Sheriff's Office releasing little information.

Spokeswoman Denise Moloney said deputies were confronted at the home by Palmer; she described him as extremely aggressive.

The situation escalated and deputies shot him, she said.

Authorities did not say how many times deputies fired or how many times Palmer was hit.

Moloney said a firearm was found near Palmer, but she did not indicate whether it was on him or if it prompted the shooting.

Palmer was taken by helicopter to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson with life-threatening injuries. The Sheriff's Office announced Thursday evening he had died at 8:05 a.m.

The shooting will be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office internal affairs unit. A spokeswoman for the FDLE said the department could not comment on an active investigation.

Beckwith and Cochrane both were placed on paid administrative leave, per standard protocol. Beckwith, 47, has been a deputy with the Sheriff's Office for 23 years. Cochrane, 26, has been a deputy for less than a year.

According to court documents, Griffitts has owned the property off California Street, southwest of Brooksville, since Nov. 22. Palmer had lived there the entire time.

On April 28, a judge found in favor of Griffitts and ordered an eviction notice. A writ of possession was signed May 1, commanding the Sheriff's Office to remove Palmer from the property after giving him 24-hour notice.

In a handwritten rebuttal letter to the judge in the case, Palmer said he and Anneliese Griffitts had a verbal agreement that he would help her find a house with acreage in Hernando so she could bring several homeless cats from Pasco County, where she lives.

Griffitts is listed as an officer with Countless Cats Rescue Inc. in New Port Richey. She said Palmer never actually took care of her cats.

Palmer, who went through an eviction in 2013 and a foreclosure in 2000, according to records, said he was to live there and take care of the cats for as long as he wanted.

Griffitts said he didn't keep up his end of the bargain. Also, she said the home was filthy when she came up to visit.

In the letter, Palmer wrote that he felt he was owed money for all the work he had done. He wanted to stay in the home through the summer. He wrote that it would be difficult and painful to live out of his car if he didn't get the rest of the free rent that he felt he was owed.

Griffitts said Palmer was a volunteer, but she still paid him for his work.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Law enforcement vehicles gather near the scene of a deputy-involved shooting and suspected arson. The shooting will be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Law enforcement vehicles gather near the scene of a deputy-involved shooting and suspected arson. The shooting will be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.

Hernando deputies shoot, kill man they say torched a home over eviction 05/08/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2014 9:44pm]
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