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‘How’d I get him in the back?’ New details in shooting of unarmed teen.

A Hillsborough deputy was cleared because he thought the boy, 17, had a gun. Records show how it happened.
A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy responding to a domestic violence call shot an unarmed 17-year-old along Skipper Road in north Tampa on March 26. The deputy thought the teen was pulling a gun. The teen was paralyzed and the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office has ruled that the deputy will not face charges. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy responding to a domestic violence call shot an unarmed 17-year-old along Skipper Road in north Tampa on March 26. The deputy thought the teen was pulling a gun. The teen was paralyzed and the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office has ruled that the deputy will not face charges. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Sep. 19, 2019
Updated Sep. 21, 2019

TAMPA — Hillsborough Deputy Daniel Estanislau rushed to the teenager he’d just shot and made two troubling discoveries.

It was the evening of March 26, and Estanislau had stopped to talk to the teen because he matched the description of a suspect in a domestic disturbance at a nearby apartment complex.

Soon after getting out of his patrol car, Estanislau pulled his service pistol and fired.

As the deputy rendered first aid, he discovered the round had struck the teen in the upper back. And there, lying on the ground nearby, was the object Estanislau thought was a gun. It was a cell phone.

As other deputies arrived on the scene, Estanislau wondered aloud:

Why’d he make me do that?

How’d I get him in the back?

Will I get fired?

Hundreds of pages of investigative documents recently released by the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office shed more light on the encounter that left the teen paralyzed from the chest down and Estanislau wondering about his future.

Prosecutors announced last month that there wasn’t enough evidence to file criminal charges against Estanislau. The Sheriff’s Office is conducting a routine administrative review to determine if he will face disciplinary action. The name of the teen has not been released.

Deputy Daniel Estanislau shot a 17-year-old boy in Tampa on March 26 while responding to a domestic disturbance call. Estanislau, 26 at the time, said he thought the teen was drawing a gun from his waistband. The object turned out to be a cell phone. [Hillsborough State Attorney's Office]

The file shows how conflicting testimony from Estanislau, the teen and witnesses, along with a lack of video evidence, stymied efforts to get a definitive account of what happened in the seconds before Estanislau pulled the trigger.

Here’s how the encounter unfolded.

Estanislau was on his way to a shoplifting call about 7:40 p.m. when he volunteered to respond to a domestic disturbance at the Jasmine Terrace Apartments on Skipper Road, instead.

Dispatchers relayed information to deputies from two 911 callers. One was crying as she reported that “someone is bleeding” and “her brother had thrown her onto the floor and left.” Another caller told dispatch that “his 17-year-old grandson just knocked out his mother." At least one caller said no weapons were involved.

When Estanislau, 26 at the time, arrived at the complex, the teen’s grandfather told him the teen was walking west on Skipper Road. Estanislau headed that way.

Moments later, he called out “shots fired” on the radio.

Deputy Armando Perez was the first to arrive and found Estanislau applying pressure to the teen’s wound. Perez told a detective later that Estanislau was obviously “in shock" and "shaken up.”

The deputies discovered there was an entry wound in the teen’s left shoulder area and no exit wound. Estanislau said something like, “I don’t know how it hit him in the back,” Perez recalled.

After the shooting, detectives got to work finding and interviewing witnesses.

A deputy who shot and paralyzed an unarmed 17-year-old boy March 26 was responding to a domestic violence call at Jasmine Terrace apartments on Skipper Road in north Tampa.

Annette Gaddy said she was driving on Skipper Road when she saw a deputy get out of a patrol car and approach what appeared to be a man dressed in red. The man briefly stopped, turned to look back over his left shoulder at the deputy and started to run away. Gaddy said she heard three pops and saw the man fall. She said she didn’t see the man reach for anything.

Another witness, José Aviles, Jr., was driving on Skipper Road and rolled slowly by as the incident unfolded.

Aviles said the deputy got out of his car and came around the door. The teen turned, saw the deputy and “back pedaled about three steps (and) at that same time the officer had pulled out his gun, said, ‘Stop, show me your hands,’ and let off, from what I remember, three shots.”

Aviles said the teen’s hands were up near his chest, so Aviles was surprised when the deputy opened fire “because I seen the kid and I seen his hands and there was nothing in them,” he said.

But Aviles said he was looking at the deputy, not the teen, from the time he drew his gun to when he fired.

Estanislau gave his first account to investigators the day of the shooting, submitted a detailed written statement on April 12 and six days later sat for an interview with a detective.

Estanislau said it was dusk at the time but he could still see fairly well. He said when he got out of his patrol car, he told the teen he wanted to talk to him, but the teen appeared agitated and said he didn’t want to talk. When the teen turned toward him, Estanislau said, his right hand was on a black object tucked into his waistband.

Seeing that object, Estanislau said in the interview, “changed everything.” He drew his FNS 9mm pistol and told the teen to show him his hands.

The teen raised his left arm — a motion Estanislau perceived as a way to make space to draw and fire a gun — and kept his right hand on the object. At that point, he said, the teen’s left shoulder was “bladed” toward Estanislau.

“And I can see the right hand coming up and out kind of like this,” he said, demonstrating the movement during the interview. “And I was just like, crap, he’s going to shoot me. I gotta shoot first. And that’s when I fired, when he made that motion... .”

Estanislau fired two shots, but only one struck the teen. As he fell backwards, the object fell to the ground. Estanislau saw it was a cell phone in a black case with a stand on the back. The stand was in the open position.

“I wish he would have done like, ‘Hey, no, it’s a cell phone, don’t do anything, it’s ok,’” Estanislau said.

Though Estanislau initially expressed surprise about hitting the teen in the back, his written statement says the location of the bullet in his left shoulder blade area was “consistent with the bladed position he had been in."

“Had he simply complied with my commands, dropped the object or placed his hands away from the object, this incident would have never happened,” Estanislau wrote.

The teen gave his account on June 12 at Tampa General Hospital.

He said he remembers the deputy getting out of his car and asking to talk to him, then drawing his gun. He said he was holding his cell phone in his right hand as he raised both hands level with his shoulders or ears, “trying to show him my hands.”

“I turned around and was fixing to get ready to run, and that’s when he shot me,” he said.

The teen said he couldn’t remember the position of his hands when he turned to run. Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner asked why he wanted to run.

“Because he was trying to kill me,” the teen replied.

Hillsborough deputies do not wear body cameras. A video from a nearby business show the teen walking into the frame and Estanislau drawing his gun, but he and the teen move out of the camera’s view by the time Estanislau fires. Estanislau’s statement was consistent with what the footage shows, according to the report.

The bullet collapsed one of the teen’s lungs, fractured a rib and struck a vertebra, causing paralysis from the chest down, the report says.

The teen, who has since turned 18, was not arrested or charged in connection to the domestic disturbance call.

In a letter to the Sheriff’s Office accompanying Estanislau’s written statement, attorney Steve Romine noted that his client has a history of using restraint in potentially life-threatening situations.

In a 2018 call about a woman waving a gun and threatening to shoot someone, Estanislau arrived to find the woman with the gun tucked into her waistband. He drew his weapon but did not fire on the woman even when she disobeyed his commands and moved her hands to her waist and pockets.

The weapon turned out to be a BB gun.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, attorneys representing the teen and his family said the evidence showed Estanislau committed aggravated battery. The attorneys suggested Warren instead charge him with culpable negligence and craft a deal that would require community service hours but no jail time.

In a statement last month, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren office said prosecutors conferred with a grand jury to determine whether aggravated battery or culpable negligence laws applied.

Noting that the precise position of the teen’s hands and body were among “unresolved facts” in the case, prosecutors concluded that Estanislau’s mistaken belief the teen had a gun and posed an imminent threat was not “objectively unreasonable." Neither was his use of force, prosecutors said.

In an email to the Times, Michael T. Davis, one of the teen’s attorneys, said his clients expect Sheriff Chad Chronister to take “appropriate action” in disciplining Estanislau but did not specify what that means.

Chronister “personally assured the family that he would do right by the child,” Davis said. They also want Estanislau to apologize.

Estanislau is on administrative duty while an internal review is underway to determine if he violated any policies.

“Throughout this process, we will continue to be as transparent as the law and internal protocols allow,” Chronister said in a statement.

Romine said his client is looking forward to getting back to his patrol duties.

Meantime, the teen hopes to beat the medical odds. He can move his arms but doctors say his paralysis is permanent.

“The teen, however, remains confident," Davis said, “that he will one day recover the use of his whole body.”

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