TAMPA — The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office has cleared three Tampa police officers who opened fire on suspects in separate shootings, one of them deadly.
Officers in each case were in imminent fear for their safety or the safety of the public and so were legally justified in firing their service weapons, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office said in a news release Friday.
The first case unfolded on July 4 and resulted in the death of 40-year-old John Reuben Turbe, Jr. Warren’s office withheld the officer’s name, citing Marsy’s Law, an amendment to Florida’s constitution designed to protect crime victims. Tampa police previously identified him as Bryan Velazquez.
Velazquez responded about 10 p.m. after an employee at the Texaco station on the 3700 block of N 50th St. called 911 to report that a man with a gun, later identified as Turbe, entered the store, then walked outside, approached three people and fired one time, according to the release. The man then fired two more shots into the air.
When Velazquez spotted Turbe, he turned toward the officer and pulled a pistol from his waist area, according to the release. Velazquez ordered him to put down the gun. Instead, Turbe ran into a nearby neighborhood. Velazquez pursued him and ordered him several times to put down the gun and warned him, “you’re gonna get shot,” the release states.
Turbe stopped, turned around, took five steps toward the Velazquez and pointed the gun at the him, the release states. Velazquez fired four shots, hitting Turbe multiple times. An autopsy found he died from gunshot wounds to the head and torso.
The shooting was captured by Velazquez’s body camera. Tampa police released the footage the next day.
The second shooting happened on Aug. 16 at the Metro 510 Apartments, 510 E Harrison Ave., when an off-duty officer fired at 22-year-old Samario Lee Austin. Warren’s office withheld the officer’s name, again citing Marsy’s Law, but Tampa police previously identified him as Gig Brown, 56.
According to investigators, Austin was armed with an AR-style rifle and a handgun and had fired multiple shots in the building, prompting numerous 911 calls. Brown heard the shots and entered a courtyard area on the third floor. He spotted Austin, who was wearing black shorts and no shirt, walking backward along a fifth-floor walkway while holding a rifle and a handgun, according to Warren’s office. Brown was armed with a SIG Sauer 9mm handgun.
“Believing Austin had both a tactical and firepower advantage, the officer fired seven rounds at Austin without announcing himself,” the news release says.
Austin was not hit. More Tampa officers arrived and took him into custody in a sixth floor apartment, according to information previously released by police. No injuries were reported.
Police recovered a Glock 26 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber AR-style weapon discarded in a stairwell between the fifth and sixth floors. Investigators also recovered 26 spent shell casings from the fifth and sixth floors.
Prosecutors have charged Austin with aggravated assault, shooting at, within or into a building, and culpable negligence by exposure to injury. In a news release at the time, police said Austin lived in the building, had been served an eviction notice and admitted to shooting at apartments of neighbors that “gave him problems.”
The third shooting happened three days later, when an officer shot at a 17-year-old boy near the intersection of North Nebraska and East Linebaugh avenues.
According to Warren’s release. the officer was in plain clothes and a “covert” vehicle conducting surveillance on the juvenile who matched the description of a wanted suspect. The officer saw the teen was holding a handgun.
As other officers moved in, the officer drove toward the teen, who raised the gun and pointed it in the officer’s direction, the release states. The officer fired eight times through his front windshield. The teen was not hit and rode away on his bicycle.
When police caught up with him and took him into custody, he said he “dumped the gun,” according to Warren’s release. Police found a loaded 9mm pistol along the path the teen took as he rode away.
The officer’s body camera was rolling at the time but its view was mostly blocked by the car’s dashboard, according to Warren’s office. Another officer witnessed the teen raise his arm and point the gun in the officer’s direction, the release states.
The teen was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed firearm and being a minor in possession of a firearm. The Times is not naming him because of his age.
Tampa police and Warren’s office withheld the officer’s name, citing Marsy’s Law.