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Tampa investigators clear police officers in 2 fatal shootings

Two groups of police officers involved in two high-profile shooting deaths late last year acted properly and did not violate departmental policy, Tampa police internal affairs investigators decided this week.

Seven officers were cleared in separate shootings last year, one during a robbery at a south Tampa NationsBank and the other during a drug bust in College Hill.

In the first instance, officers staked out the NationsBank branch at Kennedy Boulevard and MacDill Avenue when they suspected an armed robbery would occur on Nov. 25, according to the report. When the suspects arrived and found the bank door locked, they tried to escape.

Amid a barrage of police gunfire and stun grenades, police fatally shot robbery suspect Kevin Tramel, 25, and captured two others. The suspects, wearing ski masks and gloves, apparently did not fire any shots from their semiautomatic handguns. No officers or civilians were injured.

Officials ruled that Sgt. Carson Helms, Sgt. Patrick Minnax, Cpl. Thomas Downes, Cpl. John Bennett and Detective Paul Rockhill "exercised every possible caution. They took reasonable steps to protect the safety of innocent bystanders, and were left with no alternative, by the actions of the suspects, for other than the use of deadly force to defend themselves and the public."

In the second shooting, the Tampa police QUAD squad was working an undercover drug operation near the College Hill public housing complex on Dec. 6, according to the internal affairs report.

Matthew Herbert Mills, 34, approached undercover officers and purchased cocaine, police said. When officers tried to arrest Mills, he struggled with them, biting one officer and grabbing his gun.

During the struggle, Mills fired one shot from the officers' gun and refused to drop it, instead he aimed it at police. Tampa police Sgt. Peter Brevi and Officer Eric Houston shot and killed Mills, the report states.

"The evidence clearly shows that Officer Houston and Sgt. Brevi reasonably believed that it was necessary to shoot Mr. Mills in order to prevent their own imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves and to others, that they had nowhere to retreat in order to avoid the attack, and that they had no safe alternative to shooting Mr. Mills," the report states.

The State Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the officers involved in both shootings. Therefore, they have been cleared to return to work.

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