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Shooting justified, state attorney rules

Published Feb. 28, 2006

Two Pinellas sheriff's deputies were justified in shooting to death a 45-year-old man thought to be suicidal, State Attorney Bernie McCabe has ruled.

After first being hit with a Taser, Donald R. Yates turned a gun in the direction of deputies who had gone to Yates' home Jan. 12, McCabe wrote in a letter Thursday. The deputies were responding to a 911 call.

Deputies Christine Smith and Christopher White "reasonably believed their lives to be in danger" when they each fired four rounds, hitting Yates several times, McCabe wrote.

The deputies also wounded Yates' wife, Deborah K. Yates, 42, who grabbed her husband from behind, appearing to try to stop him from harming himself, authorities said. Mrs. Yates denied Monday that her husband held a gun.

"It was on the ground," she said. "They fired on a helpless man. They fired at me. . . . He needed help. That's why I called for help, not to get my husband shot."

Largo attorney John Trevena, who was retained by one of Yates' sons, said Yates could not have intentionally pointed a gun because he was incapacitated by the Taser shock.

"The officers were reacting to something they facilitated," Trevena said.

McCabe, however, wrote that Mrs. Yates' claims were not credible, in part because she had given inconsistent accounts of the shooting.

"It is our opinion that Mrs. Yates feels she shares some responsibility for her husband's death because of her 911 call that brought deputies to the residence," McCabe wrote.

According to the state attorney's investigation, this is how the shooting unfolded:

Deputies were dispatched to 1438 Chesterfield Drive at 10:31 a.m. Jan. 12. Yates, apparently worried that he might lose his job at a dental lab in Oldsmar, had written a suicide note.

Mrs. Yates found it, implored her husband not to kill himself and then dialed 911. Five cruisers with eight deputies arrived to a woman's screams:

"Don't do it. . . . Let me have it. . . . Please help."

Deputies entered the back yard and saw the couple struggling on the floor of a screened porch. They couldn't see Yates' hands.

Deputy Jason Stibbard shot Yates with a Taser in the lower back, and Yates immediately turned, swinging the gun toward the deputies. Smith and White fired, killing Yates and hitting his wife in the thigh and foot.

Yates never fired a gun during the incident, but one was found at the scene.

Smith, who has been with the Sheriff's Office for eight years, and White, who has worked for the office for 13 years, were placed on nondisciplinary paid administrative leave.

A sheriff's deadly force review board has not yet ruled on the shooting.