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Tampa police justified in shootings where two men were injured, review finds

The results of the separate investigations were announced in back-to-back news releases from State Attorney Andrew Warren.
A Tampa police officer's body camera footage shows the officer aiming a gun at Jeremy D. Liwag just before opening fire at a Tampa apartment complex on Jan. 18. Police say Liwag raised a gun toward the unidentified officer, forcing him to open fire.
A Tampa police officer's body camera footage shows the officer aiming a gun at Jeremy D. Liwag just before opening fire at a Tampa apartment complex on Jan. 18. Police say Liwag raised a gun toward the unidentified officer, forcing him to open fire. [ Tampa Police Department ]
Published Mar. 3
Updated Mar. 3

TAMPA — Tampa police were justified in shooting and injuring two men in separate incidents, the state attorney has found — one where the suspect fired at officers while barricaded in a hotel and the other after the suspect raised a gun at them as he answered his apartment door.

The findings were announced in back-to-back news releases Wednesday from State Attorney Andrew Warren, based on independent reviews conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Officers in both incidents used deadly force “in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm” and had no duty under Florida law to retreat, Warren said in the release.

In the first incident, which started on Christmas Eve, two members of the police SWAT unit shot 44-year-old Renardo Bucklon Butler after he had barricaded himself inside a room at Rodeway Inn, 2904 Melbourne Blvd., according to the review.

“Butler shot at TPD officers outside the motel room in multiple waves of gunfire,” the review said.

The shooting ended a standoff that lasted seven hours as negotiators tried to persuade Butler to surrender peacefully.

A round fired by Renardo Bucklon struck a ballistic shield during a standoff at the Rodeway Inn in East Tampa, Tampa police said.
A round fired by Renardo Bucklon struck a ballistic shield during a standoff at the Rodeway Inn in East Tampa, Tampa police said. [ Tampa Police Department ]

Butler told negotiators he was under the influence, heavily armed, and planned to injure anyone who entered the room. Officers, upon hearing gunfire and fearing Butler had shot himself, tried to enter through a door but he fired at them a number of times and they retreated, the review said.

During the next four hours, officers deployed robots, flashbang devices and chemical agents to no avail. Shortly after 1 a.m., they broke out a window to see in the room and Butler fired at them again, the review said. One of the officers fired 44 rounds from a Colt M4 AR-15 rifle and the other fired eight rounds from a Sig Sauer MPX rifle, striking Butler a number of times.

Renardo Bucklon Butler, 44, was shot by Tampa police after he barricaded himself inside a room at a Rodeway Inn and opened fire, police said.
Renardo Bucklon Butler, 44, was shot by Tampa police after he barricaded himself inside a room at a Rodeway Inn and opened fire, police said. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

In the second incident, on Jan. 18, an officer responding to reports of a man with a handgun shot 28-year-old Jeremy De La Cruz-Liwag as he raised a gun after answering the door of his apartment, according to the review. Five officers stood in single-file at the door but De La Cruz-Liwag answered before they knocked.

The first officer attempted to engage De La Cruz-Liwag in conversation and noticed that De La Cruz-Liwag had his right hand behind his back. The officer ordered De La Cruz-Liwag to “come out here” and “let me see your hands.” Instead, De La Cruz-Liwag backed into the apartment, moved a handgun from behind his right side and raised it in the direction of the officer, the review said.

The officer fired, striking De La Cruz-Liwag three times. The gun they recovered from De La Cruz-Liwag was a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol with a round in the chamber and 14 rounds in the magazine

A neighbor in the apartment complex, the Bowery Bayside Apartments at 6401 S Westshore Blvd., had called 911 to report that an unknown person armed with a gun was banging on their door. The neighbor provided doorbell camera footage showing De La Cruz-Liwag knocking and making comments about De La Cruz-Liwag’s dog. When De La Cruz-Liwag moved, a firearm was visible in his left hand.

Jeremy De La Cruz-Liwag, 28, was shot by Tampa police as he raised a handgun in front of officers, police said.
Jeremy De La Cruz-Liwag, 28, was shot by Tampa police as he raised a handgun in front of officers, police said. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

Butler appears to have been hit by bullets in four places — the arm, shoulder, neck, and lip, said state attorney’s spokesman Grayson Kamm. Butler was placed under arrest at the Hillsborough County jail Dec. 26 and was being held without bond on more than a dozen felony charges, including attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and possession of a firearm by a felon.

De La Cruz-Liwag appeared to have been hit twice, once in the leg and once in the hip. He was booked from a hospital bed the night of the shooting and released from police custody three days later on $15,000 bail. He faces two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon.

In both incidents, the names of the officers involved were withheld because of Marsy’s Law, the voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that is meant to protect crime victims but that deprives the public of information long available under Florida’s public records law.

Related: Florida cops who use force keep names secret with Marsy’s Law

The law applies to the officers because they were victims of assault, according to the review.

Police Chief Brian Dugan has said he doesn’t believe the amendment should apply to law enforcement officers in the line of duty and he encourages his officers to opt for releasing their names. Still, Dugan said, he is bound by provisions of the law.

Staff writer Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.