ST. PETERSBURG — A hit-and-run in the early hours of Sunday morning evolved into a welfare check that ended with a St. Petersburg police officer fatally shooting a man by daybreak, according to law enforcement.
Officer Jace Morrow shot Gus Spanoudis, 63, in Spanoudis’ St. Petersburg apartment after he pointed a gun at Morrow and refused to put down the weapon, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
At 3:48 a.m., St. Petersburg police responded to a report of a hit-and-run of a parked car in the area of 13th Avenue N and 50th Street N, Gualtieri said at a news conference Sunday morning.
At the scene, officers located a bumper from the suspect vehicle that had a tag on it registered to a woman named Mary Spanoudis, leading them to an apartment complex less than a mile away on 58th Street N.
Officers attempted to make contact at the residence “multiple times,” Gualtieri said. They later returned but still received no answer and looked through a window, noticing a wheelchair and crutches inside. They also noticed mail stacked outside the apartment.
Gualtieri said the officers called Mary Spanoudis and learned she lived in a local nursing home. She told them her son, Gus, lived in the apartment instead.
She said she had last spoken to him on Thanksgiving, according to Gualtieri, who added that she told officers Gus was disabled. She voiced concern for his safety and asked police to check on him, Gualtieri said.
Two St. Petersburg officers, Morrow and James DeMaria, tried again to gain access to the residence, this time to conduct a welfare check.
Receiving no response, a maintenance person tried to help the officers gain access with a key, but they still could not get inside, Gualtieri said.
At approximately 6:10 a.m., St. Petersburg firefighters arrived and helped the officers make a forced entry.
When they first entered, they did not see anyone but then spotted Spanoudis in a chair in a back bedroom, Gualtieri said.
Spanoudis made suicidal statements and pointed a firearm at Morrow, Gualtieri said at the news conference, which took place outside the apartment complex.
“The officers knew there were other people in the apartment because they could see feet and legs in an adjacent bedroom, so there were multiple people in multiple bedrooms, and there were two officers,” he added.
Morrow issued several commands to drop the firearm before firing at Spanoudis, said Gualtieri, who at the time of the news conference had not yet seen the officers’ body camera footage.
Spanoudis was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Neither officer was injured.
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Gualtieri said the information provided at the news conference was based on preliminary findings, adding: “Everything is subject to change based on additional witness interviews, interviews with the officers, physical evidence that we find at the scene, etc.”
Morrow, 30, was hired by the St. Petersburg Police Department in November 2015.
The other people in the apartment at the time of the shooting were 29-year-old Dominic Messina and 30-year-old Michael Redmond.
Messina and Redmond are witnesses at this point, Gualtieri said, adding it is unclear which of the three men were behind the wheel at the time of the hit-and-run, though it is suspected to have been Messina or Redmond.
Messina had been living in the 58th Street N apartment with Spanoudis, Gualtieri said. Redmond was supposedly staying with them too, the sheriff said, adding Redmond’s last address was on Florida’s east coast in Martin County.
Law enforcement are still conducting a hit-and-run investigation, separate from the Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Investigative Task Force investigation now underway.
The task force was created in 2020 “to ensure the investigations conducted into law enforcement use of deadly force are thorough, complete, and objective,” according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office. “The purpose of this taskforce is to make sure that officer-involved shootings in Pinellas County are investigated by an independent agency and not by the agency involved in the use of deadly force.”
The investigation being led by the Sherriff’s Office, Gualtieri said. Per the St. Petersburg Police Department’s policy, Morrow will be placed on no-duty status, according to the news release.