Deadly force justified in police shooting of Clearwater man, prosecutor says

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office ruled that the June 8 death of Bryan Wallace was “justifiable homicide.” The two officers have returned to duty.
The Clearwater Police Department said Bryan Wallace, 39, was fatally shot by two police officers on June 8. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
The Clearwater Police Department said Bryan Wallace, 39, was fatally shot by two police officers on June 8. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published July 12

CLEARWATER — The two police officers who fatally shot a 39-year-old man last month were justified in their actions, according to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.

The June 8 death of Bryan Wallace was ruled “justifiable homicide,” according to the investigative report issued Tuesday.

Clearwater police Officers Justin Buis and Michael Diaz shot him while he was raising a pistol and refusing orders to drop the weapon, according to police. The two officers fired their weapons “while in the performance of their lawful duties,” the report said.

The two officers returned to patrol duty on Friday, which is when the Clearwater Police Department released State Attorney Bernie McCabe’s investigation into the shooting. An internal police investigation of the shooting is still ongoing.

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Witness interviews and video footage recorded near the incident support the account of the officers, the report said, but there are inconstancies in their statements.

The officers were sent to investigate a report of a man waving a gun in a “threatening manner” when they encountered Wallace near a residence on the 1000 block of La Salle Street, the report said.

Buis and Diaz said they told Wallace they needed to talk to him, but that he walked away while pulling a pistol from his waistband. Wallace dropped the Glock 17 9mm pistol on the ground, then picked it up while they told him to stop, the officers told investigators.

Wallace was holding the gun and raising it, both Diaz and Buis said, when they shot him.

The State Attorney Office’s report said video footage obtained from security cameras on the scene and interviews with four witnesses confirmed the officers’ accounts.

However, the report also said none of those witnesses described events exactly as the officers explained them. Two witnesses said they only heard the officers tell Wallace to stop, followed by gunshots. However, they did not witness the shooting itself.

Witness Eugene Lane, told the Tampa Bay Times after the incident that he saw Wallace drop something — he’s not sure what — and that officers fired at him as he reached for it.

“Everything happened in a split second,” Lane said last month.

Lane was interviewed by the State Attorney’s Office and said he was unsure what Wallace dropped. But in other interviews with police investigators, the report said, Lane said the object was a gun.

Witness Carmen Chamblee, who said she was Wallace’s cousin, told the State Attorney’s Office that he had fallen to the ground and was not holding the gun when he was shot, the report said. However, the report noted that no other witness said Wallace was on the ground when he was shot.

The report did not clarify whether any of the video footage found shows the exact moment when Wallace was shot. In one video, he falls out of sight behind a Buick as officers have their guns drawn, but from the report it is unclear whether he falls before or after officers opened fire. The other videos reviewed by investigators were from before or after the shooting.

The State Attorney’s Office concluded that Buis and Diaz did not act inappropriately, and opened fire “only after Wallace disregarded multiple police commands to drop his firearm, and after he showed no signs of compliance.”

The report noted that an autopsy found alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana in Wallace’s system. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.227, the report said. Florida law presumes a driver is impaired at 0.08 or greater.

Rufus Woodard, a relative of Wallace, told the Times last month that her cousin was not a violent person and that he was excited to celebrate his 40th birthday, which was just days away on June 13.

Contact Aaron Holmes at aholmes@tampabay.com or 706-347-1880. Follow @aaronpholmes.

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