The ex-wife of a Spring Hill man, who died after a Hernando County sheriff's deputy shot him for fear of being run over, is suing the deputy as well as the county.
Sarah Tenison is seeking unspecified damages of more than $15,000 from the county and Deputy Scott Lamia for the death of her ex-husband John Tenison, according to the civil lawsuit filed at Hernando County Circuit Court Wednesday. Tenison is accusing the county and Lamia of civil rights violations and negligence.
On Oct. 21, 2002, Lamia fired 11 shots at John Thomas Tenison, 45, at Hazelcrest Street and Matthew Avenue in Spring Hill, according to state investigation records. Lamia had been standing outside his police car and told investigators he shot Tenison, who tried to run him over with his white Buick. Tenison died a day later from gunshot wounds.
Lamia was cleared of criminal charges, but the grand jury also deemed the death "unnecessary and avoidable," after concluding its investigation.
Lamia, 27, faced discipline by the county Sheriff's Office for putting himself in harm's way and served a 15-day suspension last February. He has since been assigned to desk duty.
While the Sheriff's Office deemed Lamia's actions "tragic," it found Lamia broke no policy in shooting when he felt his life endangered. Two witnesses have said they didn't believe that Lamia's life was in peril.
The lawsuit criticizes the county for not disciplining or prosecuting officers involved in the shooting.
The lawsuit also claims the county's system of reviewing shootings by deputies was inadequate, because it uncritically relies on reports provided by its own deputies involved. The county also is accused of not adequately training Lamia to handle such a situation involving a traffic stop of a fleeing person.
It also accuses Lamia of failing to control the situation that led to the shooting.
"Scott Lamia knew the identity of Mr. Tenison, knew that he had committed no violent crime and that his reckless and grossly negligent acts created danger to others, as well as Mr. Tenison, creating a situation where deadly force was unnecessarily and negligently used."
Tenison's Orlando attorney Clay Townsend said the family agreed with the grand jury's opinion that the death of John Tenison was avoidable.
Tenison's two children have been struck by grief and miss their father, Townsend said.
"We believe that (Lamia's) actions were sort of outside the realm of training," Townsend said. "Our position is that the shooting was totally unnecessary, as our complaint says."
Both Lamia and the Sheriff's Office declined to comment about the lawsuit.
The October 2002 incident began as a simple domestic disturbance. Mrs. Tenison had called the Sheriff's Office, after her ex-husband had violated a restraining order and visited the house at 2047 Tunisia Ave. three times that Monday.
Lamia spotted Tenison's car in the area and chased him.
When Tenison stopped briefly at Matthew Avenue and Hazelcrest Street, Lamia pulled his car around Tenison's car to create a road block.
Lamia jumped out of his car with his handgun and stepped toward Tenison's car. Shots were fired six seconds after Lamia had stopped his car, according to an in-car video.
Lamia told investigators Tenison shifted gears, backed his car up, then shifted again and accelerated at the deputy, according to the FDLE report. When Lamia saw the car heading toward him, he "feared for his life" and opened fire, the report said.
The other two witnesses, Vivian Korner and Shayne Thompson, said Tenison made a slow left turn and then Lamia fired. They both said they didn't believe Lamia was in danger of being run over.
_ Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352)848-1434 or libertosptimes.com.