The death of a Lakeland man shot by a Polk County Sheriff’s deputy Friday morning was “a classic suicide by cop,” Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference.
Judd said the 60-year-old man called law enforcement to his home then pointed a gun at the deputy and refused to drop the weapon.
The man called 911 at 10:20 a.m. to report a suspicious person outside his house, Judd said. During the call, the man told the 911 operator that the person outside had a gun.
Deputy Chad Nichols arrived about 10 minutes later, Judd said, and the operator told the man a deputy was about to knock on his door. When the door swung open a moment later, though, Nichols saw no one there. Angling to look farther inside the house, he saw a man pointing a handgun at him.
Nichols yelled at the man, identified by Judd as the caller, to put down the gun but he held it at his side and approached the deputy. When the man raised the gun again, Nichols shot him once in the chest, killing him, Judd said.
Neighbors and the man’s son told deputies he had been distraught over the recent death of his wife, Judd said. The Tampa Bay Times is withholding the man’s name because he died by suicide.
Nichols, a 15-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, was in uniform and arrived at the house in a marked car, making it clear who he was, Judd said. In allowing the man to approach as far as he did while holding the gun, Nichols “took way too many chances in this case, because he didn’t want to have to shoot this man,” Judd said.
Investigations by the Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office and the Medical Examiner’s Office are under way, Judd said. Nichols will be on paid administrative leave for the first stages of the investigation.
It’s not yet known if the man’s gun was loaded, Judd said. There is not video recording of the shooting from a body-worn camera but investigators were reviewing neighbors’ surveillance systems.
Backup was on its way to the scene at the time of the shooting, Judd said, but Nichols was alone when he shot the man.
“I’m sorry he put us in that situation," Judd said. “I’m sorry he didn’t allow us to help him.”
Need help? If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, reach out to the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741; or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay can be reached by dialing 211 or by visiting crisiscenter.com.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that there is no video recording of the shooting from a body-worn camera.