TAMPA — The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office has found that two Tampa police officers were legally justified in opening fire on a man suspected in a Dollar General robbery last month.
Dominique Mulkey, 26, ignored commands from the officers to drop a handgun after robbing a Dollar General discount store on Oct. 20 and instead raised the gun and pointed the weapon in their direction, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office said in a news release Tuesday.
The officers then fired a total of 42 rounds. One hit Mulkey in the head, another in the torso, killing him, according to the release.
”Florida law is clear that anyone — police officer or civilian — can legally use deadly force when put in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm,” the release says. “We have determined the facts and evidence of this incident prove the two law enforcement officers reasonably believed they were in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm when they used deadly force.”
“Every life is precious, which is why we must uphold the highest standard when deadly force is used,” Warren said in a statement included in the release. “This situation is tragic, but the law is clear—when an officer or anyone else has a gun pointed at them, they are allowed to defend themselves; here, they had no other choice.”
The release says the names of the officers are exempt from public record under Marsy’s Law, a voter-approved amendment to Florida’s constitution that is meant to protect crime victims but that deprives the public of information that had been previously available under Florida’s public records law. The State Attorney’s Office says the officers are victims of an aggravated assault because Mulkey pointed the gun at them.
Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan previously said that one of the officers is 48 and has been with Tampa police for 25 years. The other is 24 and was hired two years ago. Neither had been involved before in a shooting incident while on duty.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the shooting under a new agreement with the Tampa Police Department to take over review of police shootings. Warren’s office received a presentation by FDLE, which included footage of the shooting captured by one of the officer’s body cameras.
According to information previously released by police, Mulkey was carrying a handgun and a black trash bag when he walked into the Dollar General store at 3110 N 50th Street about 9:20 a.m. Oct. 20. He filled the bag with items including a box of Cheez-its and Ruffles potato chips and was confronted by two store clerks. The clerks took the bag from his hands and began to walk away, according to store surveillance footage released by police.
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Mulkey pulled out the handgun, police said, and threatened the clerks. They gave the bag back to him. One of the clerks called 911. Within five minutes of the call, the two officers arrived in their marked patrol cars and spotted Mulkey walking north along North 50th Street a few blocks north of the store, carrying a black bag.
Tampa police released a portion of the video shortly after the shooting. Among the material released by Warren’s office Tuesday is a longer version of the video, including a segment that highlights Mulkey to more clearly show his movements.
The segment shows Mulkey walking on the sidewalk along North 50th, away from the officers, as they approach him and order him to show his hands and get on the ground. Mulkey drops the black bag and continues walking. He can be seen pulling the gun from his pants with his left hand. At that point, an officer shouts, “He’s got a gun,” and orders Mulkey to “drop the gun.”
“Instead of dropping the gun, Mulkey — who had been walking away — turned around completely to face the officers and raised his left hand from his waist up to chest height, pointing the gun in the direction of the officers,” the news release from the State Attorney says. “In response, both officers fired their weapons while continuing to command Mulkey to drop the gun.”
Over a span of 15 seconds, the two officers fired the 42 rounds — 33 by one officer, and nine by the other, the investigation found. Both officers used 9mm handguns. Investigators recovered 40 9mm shell casings at the scene.
In addition to the shots to Mulkey’s head and torso, an autopsy found a bullet-graze wound on his bicep.
Mulkey had an Armscor .38 Special six-shot revolver, fully loaded with six bullets and later identified as stolen in Cape Coral during 2013. No information about where Mulkey got the gun is included in materials released Tuesday.
Mulkey’s family has said he was intellectually disabled and hard of hearing and accused police of excessive force in shooting him. Mulkey grew up in the home of his adoptive mother on John Bell Jr. Drive, about two miles north of the Dollar General store, and was still living there at the time of his death. He had two prior arrests on his record, both for shoplifting.
Mulkey’s father, Charles Fowler, told the Tampa Bay Times in a text message Tuesday that he was reviewing material released by the State Attorney’s Office.
Warren’s news release refers to details the family made public about Mulkey’s difficult childhood, including time in the foster care system as well as his ongoing mental health challenges.
The family’s statements “shine an important light on significant challenges we face in our community related to social services and mental health support, both of which are critically underfunded and overextended,” the release says.
But those facts, while valuable in explaining Mulkey’s life prior to the shooting, aren’t relevant to a legal determination, the release says.
”Moreover, none of this information was known to the two patrol officers who encountered Mulkey on the morning of the armed robbery at the Dollar General store,” the release says. “The officers rightfully perceived an imminent deadly threat and responded.”
Tampa police did not immediately have a comment on the decision Tuesday.