The Pinellas-Pasco County State Attorney’s Office has determined the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy by Tarpon Springs police officers was justifiable homicide, according to a letter from State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.
Officers shot and killed Alexander King on Oct. 16 after King pointed what they believed was a rifle at them and passing cars, according to police.
Bartlett’s letter, addressed to Tarpon Springs Police Chief Jeffrey Young, was released Monday. In it, he states an investigation determined all officers performed within their legal duties after King repeatedly defied commands to put down the weapon.
King was carrying an airsoft rifle, also known as a pellet gun, but the state attorney’s office said it appeared to be a rifle, except for a “faded orange tip” that officers couldn’t see from a distance at night.
The names of the two officers who shot King are being withheld after the two officers, as well as five others at the scene who didn’t fire their weapons, invoked their right to remain anonymous under Marsy’s Law.
The events of the night are laid out in the state attorney’s letter based on testimony and reports.
Tarpon Springs police received reports of an armed person near the intersection of Pinellas and Tarpon avenues around 9:30 p.m. that night. The first officer to arrive saw King standing at the northwest corner of the intersection, in front of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce.
King pointed his rifle at the officer, passing cars and himself, causing the officer to get behind their vehicle and alert other officers of the situation. The officer heard King yelling, “Shoot me, shoot me,” the letter said.
The officer repeatedly told King to put down his weapon. Multiple officers arrived on the scene, armed with handguns and a rifle, as they say King pointed his weapon at them. Two officers said they were afraid King was going to shoot them or another officer, so they shot him.
Bullets struck King four times. He fell to the ground, dropping his airsoft gun.
A cellphone video from a civilian corroborates this account and shows King pulling the slide back and charging the rifle, as if it were a real gun, according to the letter.
King was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The letter also outlines King’s history, including at least seven Baker Acts. Between 2016 to 2019, there were multiple battery incidents involving other students, employees and school resource officers. In 2019, a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office threat assessment resulted in King’s removal from Tarpon Springs High School, the letter said.
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According to the incident report, King was observed drawing pictures of knives, guns, German soldiers and swastikas. Officers reported that King said he enjoyed the uneasiness his behavior caused some students.
King was receiving private counseling and had been diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and depression. Later, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, officials said.
King received several recommendations, including a different school, a formal mental health assessment and weekly parent conferences with his adoptive mother, the report said.
In a subsequent check-in, King and his mother reported he was doing better after a medication change. A month later, Tarpon Springs police responded to a call from King’s mother, saying her son had armed himself with four knives and run away. When police located King, they say he was armed with two knives. King approached the two officers, and after continued verbal commands to drop the knives, one officer deployed a pepper ball launcher, a non-lethal weapon.
King was charged with two counts of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. He was later Baker Acted.
King’s sister, Kelly Greenawald, took to Facebook to address his death. In it, she acknowledges King’s battle with mental illness. He’d had help from counselors and doctors since he was 3 years old, after his adoption at the age of 2.
Greenawald described King as a loving, funny and good-hearted kid. She says he “soaked up knowledge like a sponge.” He was a gifted artist and musician, she said, playing multiple instruments, including guitar, bass, banjo and the drums.
King had been doing well in the past three years, Greenawald said over Facebook. He had a job at a local sub shop, and he’d been learning how to weld. His dream job was to become an underwater welder, she said.
In her Facebook post, Greenawald says that they had locked up all weapons and medication for years. She apologizes to anyone King may have scared, but she believes he never intended to hurt anyone.
According to the letter, Greenawald told officers that on the evening of the incident, King was upset and left the house after threatening to kill himself. She did not contact the police when King left with the airsoft rifle, the letter said.