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Plant City officers shot driver as stolen car moved toward them, police say

Steven Kerr Jr., 25, died during the encounter. His grandmother questioned the use of force.
The scene Sunday afternoon after Plant City police shot a man suspected of trying to run down an officer. The man, who died at the scene, was not immediately named by police. A police spokesman said the man drove the gray Honda pictured toward a Plant City officer. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Luis Santana | Tampa Bay Times]
The scene Sunday afternoon after Plant City police shot a man suspected of trying to run down an officer. The man, who died at the scene, was not immediately named by police. A police spokesman said the man drove the gray Honda pictured toward a Plant City officer. [LUIS SANTANA | Luis Santana | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 1
Updated Dec. 1

PLANT CITY — Nancy Bryant woke up Sunday to find herself living in a nightmare.

The sun hadn’t yet risen when Bryant’s son, Steven Kerr Sr., came into his mother’s bedroom to tell her that police had shot and killed his 25-year-old son, Steven Kerr Jr.

It happened right outside their home on the mossy 2100 block of Spooner Drive.

Bryant walked out her front door to discover an unfamiliar car butted up against the chain link fence that lines her front yard. It had multiple bullet holes: at least five in the front windshield, several in a passenger side window and more in the back windshield.

Several bullet holes were seen in the windshield and passenger side windows of a gray Honda driven by a man who was shot by Plant City police officers early Sunday. A police spokesman said the man, who died at the scene, had driven the car toward an officer. [Luis Santana | Tampa Bay Times]

The 75-year-old grandmother would later learn that her grandson had stolen the car the previous evening. That’s not what bothered her Sunday. Her grandson, after all, had been arrested for stealing before.

“We knew he was going to have to go to jail. And that’s fine, we knew he did wrong," Bryant said in an interview Sunday. "He deserved to go to jail. But he didn’t deserve to be killed.”

* * *

Plant City Police say the officers fired after their lives were threatened.

It all started at about 6 a.m., according to department spokesman Sgt. Al Van Duyne. Two officers responded to a call about a potential sighting of a stolen car that had been involved in a Saturday evening robbery.

On Bryant’s block, they found a gray Honda Accord that matched the description of the car reported stolen. The two officers approached the sedan, one from the front, one from the back, Van Duyne said.

From the perspective of the officer approaching the windshield, the car was positioned to his left. The officer shined a flashlight in an attempt to see whether anyone was in the car.

At that moment, Steven Kerr Jr. shifted the car into gear, Van Duyne said. The car turned slightly to the left, and started toward the approaching officer. To the right of the officer was Nancy Bryant’s chain link fence. To the left, the open road.

“Being in fear for his safety, he opened fire. Both officers opened fire,” Van Duyne said.

At least one of the rounds fired by the two officers hit and killed Kerr. The officer in front of the Honda had identified himself as a police officer as the car headed toward him, Van Duyne said.

It’s unclear how many rounds were fired, or which of the officers discharged the deadly shot.

The spokesman said the department planned to release the officers’ names Monday morning.

Jeremy Burns, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, declined to release the officers’ names Sunday, citing his department’s ongoing investigation.

The two officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, Van Duyne said. Neither one was injured.

* * *

Bryant said her grandson had his problems: drug addiction, thefts, arrests. But he was brought up in a household that respected law enforcement, she said. Steven Kerr Sr., his father, was a veteran law enforcement officer with multiple local agencies earlier in his career.

Even after some of his past arrests, Bryant said police would comment on her grandson’s politeness.

He carried no weapons, she said. He had no record of violent convictions.

“It doesn’t matter what they find out," the grandmother said. "It’s not going to bring him back. He’s dead.”

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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