Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Prosecutors clear police officers who killed suicidal man on porch

ST. PETERSBURG — A group of police officers who shot and killed a man on his front porch this month were justified in their use of force, prosecutors said this week.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said an investigation by his office determined there was nothing criminal about the Sept. 7 shooting that left Lealann Russell Melder Cooley dead.

Prosecutors' review found that Cooley, 46, had tumbled into a deep depression and had made comments about wanting to kill himself. His irrational behavior increased after he began drinking again, his family told authorities.

A few hours before he died, a neighbor asked Cooley to turn down his music. It seemed to push him over the edge.

He told his longtime girlfriend, Kelly Martin, whom officials described as a common-law wife, that it was over.

"He stated, 'I'm sick, I'm psychotic, I'm mental. I'm done. I've had enough. I can't live any longer. If you want to leave you go ahead and leave too, 'cause it's going to come down tonight. The cops are coming,' " McCabe's memo said.

Martin and the couple's 16-year-old daughter left the home.

About 1:43 a.m. Sept. 7, a neighbor called police after hearing a gunshot. Officers responded but didn't find anything. They were called back at 3:36 a.m. about Cooley's music.

Six officers approached Cooley, who was sitting in his screened porch at 3311 40th St. N. Cooley had a gun in his hand and a shotgun nearby. The officers told him to move away from the guns. He lit a cigarette and repeatedly swore at the officers, the report said.

After retreating briefly to his home when officers challenged him, Cooley emerged with a rifle and pointed it at them, police said.

Six of the officers fired — 52 times in all — killing Cooley.

Officers found several guns and ammunitions inside Cooley's home. An autopsy found Cooley's blood-alcohol content was 0.20 percent. Florida law presumes a driver is impaired at 0.08 percent.

McCabe said the officers — Christopher Turbee, David Kimes, Michael Karayianes, Michael Carter, Gregory Totz, and John Phifer — were in fear for their lives when they saw the gun, a loaded rifle, pointed at them.

An internal investigation by the Police Department remains open.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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