When police Officer Jeffery Tackett answered the last call of his life, he may have thought he would find an animal scratching on a condominium door.
He parked his cruiser in front of the condominium and spoke to an 18-year-old woman who talked to him from a front window about the noises she heard in her back yard. But Tackett found something deadly when he walked into the back yard.
These details were released Monday in a news conference held by Belleair Town Manager Stephen Papalas and police Chief Harry Gwynne, who discussed Tackett's last moments for the first time since the officer was killed by a burglar June 13.
Papalas and Gwynne said Tackett did not consider the call dangerous enough for a backup officer because the woman's conversation with a Belleair police dispatcher indicated only that she had heard noises that could be a prowler or an animal.
"It wasn't a burglary call but it was a potential prowler call, possibly an animal call," Papalas said. "Everything was handled properly by everyone. Everything went according to the book, and it had a horrendous outcome."
While investigating the call, Tackett confronted a burglar. Tackett bled to death after he was shot once in the groin with his own .45-caliber revolver.
Lorenzo Lamar Jenkins, 31, was arrested several hours later in Clearwater and charged with first-degree murder. Jenkins, who has no local address, is being held at the Pinellas County Jail without bail.
Papalas and Gwynne refuted initial reports that Tackett went without a backup to investigate a burglary-in-progress call.
Tackett, 28, was the only officer on duty at the time because another officer was on military leave. He did not request a backup from another police agency before answering the call because it was not a burglary complaint, Gwynne said.
"I think that when he left, he felt that it would not be a call that would be perilous," the chief said. "I think he went in there expecting to find a raccoon or a dog."
The Pinellas Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the murder at Gwynne's request, did not know during the first stages of the investigation what kind of call Tackett was working on, said sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita.
"We were told it may have been a prowler call, a domestic (dispute) or a burglary," Tita said Monday. "Subsequently, we determined there had been a burglary at that location. We still don't know the exact nature of the call."
The county's 911 tape concerning the call has been transcribed, but isn't being released because of the continuing investigation, Tita said. The caller was transferred from the 911 system to the Belleair police.
The Belleair police's dispatch tape did not record the conversations between the dispatcher, the caller and Tackett. The tape, which previously had been cut because of problems with it, stopped at 10:30 p.m. the night Tackett died, Papalas said. The call came in about 45 minutes later.
From reports from his police department and other agencies involved, Papalas reconstructed the sequence of events of that night:
At 11:13 p.m., Belleair police received the call about "a potential prowler." Tackett was at police headquarters and overhead the conversation between the dispatcher and the caller about the sound of "metal on metal" outside a condominium at 672 Poinsettia Road. Tackett left to investigate.
At 11:15 p.m., Tackett arrived at the condominium. The woman, who was home alone, talked to him. He went into the back yard.
At 11:18 p.m., Tackett radioed his dispatcher. He told her he was holding someone at gunpoint and to send backup. After failing to reach a Belleair Bluffs officer by radio, the dispatcher telephoned the department. A Belleair Bluffs officer headed to the address.
At 11:20 p.m., Tackett radioed that he'd been in a struggle and was shot.
At 11:21 p.m., the Belleair police dispatcher called 911 by telephone and asked for more assistance.
At 11:22 p.m., officers from Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs and Largo arrived at the condominium. Tackett was dead.
"There was not a breakdown of the communication system," Papalas said. "It wasn't because there was no one available. It was because we had a cold-blooded killer on the scene."
Gwynne said his officers decide whether to ask for a backup officer when investigating a prowler call, but usually only one officer is sent to such complaints.
At the Town Council's request, Papalas and Gwynne are studying if anything could have been done to prevent Tackett's death.
"I think he did the best he could under the circumstances," the chief said. "Today, after what happened, I'd be willing to look at anything."