TAMPA — The deputy who shot an unarmed 17-year-old earlier this year, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, was cleared by an internal investigation.
Deputy Daniel Estanislau’s actions in the March 26 shooting were “justified” and “consistent” with agency policy, a shooting review board ruled Tuesday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
“These conclusions do not change that a tragedy occurred,” said Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister in a statement. “We are committed to making sure the community has access to all of the information available, and we continue to be in touch with the young man’s attorneys about this incident.”
The internal investigation was the last official inquiry into the incident. Estanislau was cleared of criminal charges by the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office on Aug. 27.
Estanislau, now 27, was investigating a report of domestic violence at about 7:45 p.m. at the Jasmine Terrace Apartments on Skipper Road when he encountered the teen. The 17-year-old was arguing with his family in the parking lot and threw his mother to the ground, causing her to suffer a head injury, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The deputy saw the teen and believed he was armed. He twice ordered him to "drop the gun, drop the gun,” then fired twice. But the teen wasn’t armed. All deputies found at the scene was his black cellphone.
“It’s certainly tragic, but had the individual complied with the orders, none of this would have ever happened,” said Estanislau’s attorney Steve Romine.
Romine said Estanislau is looking forward to returning to serving his community. The deputy was placed on light duty during the investigation, and will now free to return to road patrol.
The Sheriff’s Office and the family’s attorney have declined to name the teen, who is now 18. A bullet collapsed one of his lungs, broke a rib and struck a vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, according to the prosecutor’s report.
The teenager’s attorneys, which includes Michael Davis and Manuel Alvarez, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the process, saying they received no notice that the shooting review board was meeting and were given no opportunity to address it before the ruling.
“It is shocking that no one with intimate knowledge of the facts was invited to speak on the teen’s behalf, despite the Sheriff’s personal knowledge that the teen was represented by capable counsel,” the statement said. “We do not consider this to be a transparent process.”
The attorneys said they weren’t surprised by the internal investigation’s findings: “Public records reveal that for the past five years, the Sheriff’s Office has justified the use of deadly force in every instance, no matter how shocking and tragic the outcomes.”
The teen has regained some movement in his arms, his attorneys say, but remains paralyzed from the chest down and confined to home.
Prosecutors cleared the deputy of criminal charges after deciding he acted in self-defense because he thought the teen was armed.
“Deputy Estanislau mistakenly believed that the young man had a gun, but his belief was not objectively unreasonable,” said a statement from the State Attorney’s Office.
The agency noted that it is looking to equip its 1,200 deputies with body cameras, but said that decision is not linked to the March 26 shooting.
“While the evidence in this matter is clear, our agency is taking steps to help bring even greater clarity in the future when one of our deputies is faced with a dangerous threat and forced to deploy a service weapon,” Chronister said in a statement.