Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive


An officer shot someone the other day. But the officer's bosses didn't think you needed to know about it.

You didn't need to know what neighborhood it happened in, or who was wounded, or why it happened. You also didn't need to know the officer's name or background.

So how do we know?

Last Thursday afternoon, a Times reporter was chatting with a source when the source wondered why a federal marshal who had shot someone that morning in Tampa hadn't yet made the Web sites of the local papers.

Uh, shot someone?

Any time a cop fires a gun in the name of police protection, it's serious business. Particularly (and obviously) when someone gets shot.

Giving details without compromising the investigation goes a long way toward fostering trust and transparency when it comes to the public's relationship with law enforcement.

Heck, just letting the public know it happened is a start.

The locals know this. St. Petersburg and Tampa police, and sheriffs' offices on both sides of the bay, routinely and quickly report officer-involved shootings.

They tell us - and thus you - about the circumstances of the shooting and the investigation to follow. They expect reporters to review the officer's personnel file, from attaboys to disciplinary history.

Because you deserve to know.

And, by the way, doesn't the officer also deserve a full accounting of why he did what he did?

But this one happened in the rarefied air of federal government. (Motto: If We Think You Should Know, We'll Let You Know.)

The U.S. Marshals Service declined to release details. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state agency that has an agreement to investigate such shootings, initially did the same. Later, it confirmed a U.S. marshal did indeed shoot someone, and that the person did not die, but it did not elaborate.

An FDLE spokeswoman told me Tuesday it was reviewing its agreement with the feds.

The Orlando Sentinel, by the way, ran into a similar wall a few weeks ago after the death of an inmate at the federal courthouse who was facing a long prison term. It was days before the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed the man's identity and manner of death, which was a suspected suicide. A spokesman said it waited until the state investigation was complete.

The Tampa shooting of David Christopher Sills, a former USF basketball player with an arrest record, turned out not to be life-threatening. It was not the biggest of news stories. But this is only a comfort until you start wondering what else you haven't heard.

"It's a national policy, and we never have commented on officer-involved shootings," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Dan Winfield.

We still don't know the identity of the marshal who fired the gun. He or she may be the best law enforcement has to offer, or he or she may have a controversial past.

Sorry, you don't get to know.

No one I could find in law enforcement wanted to talk publicly about this. Privately, some of them do not like the idea of an officer, any officer, shooting anyone without quick public notification and accountability. It just looks bad.

But don't worry. They'll let you know when you need to know. If you need to know.