RIVERVIEW — Angel Ortiz can’t make sense of what happened to his neighbor.
Ronald Ehrich was a retired Tampa cop who would celebrate his 89th birthday in February. Ortiz, who lives down the street from Ehrich in their Riverview subdivision, had done odd jobs for him and would occasionally check on him at his daughter’s request.
Ehrich was very hard of hearing and wore hearing aids, according to Ortiz. If he wasn’t wearing those, Ortiz said, “he had to read your lips.”
He figures that had to be a factor in what happened Tuesday morning, when a Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy who had been called to do a welfare check on Ehrich shot him dead in his home.
Ortiz said that he can only surmise that despite Deputy Anastacia Castillo’s numerous efforts to identify herself, Ehrich didn’t realize — or perhaps didn’t believe — she was a law enforcement officer.
“If he knew she was a police officer, he would have complied right away,” said Ortiz, 51.
Castillo had no choice but to open fire on Ehrich after he didn’t drop his gun and advanced toward her after she retreated into a bedroom, Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference Tuesday. Chronister noted video from Castillo’s body camera shows her announcing numerous times that she was from the Sheriff’s Office and was there to check on Ehrich, and then ordering him to drop his gun numerous times right up until she pulled the trigger.
Castillo was initially summoned to the home after Ehrich’s neighbor reported that she hadn’t seen him for two days and that his garage door and a door from the garage into the home had been left open, Chronister said.
Ehrich lived alone in the home on the 12000 block of Longcrest Drive in Copperfield, a subdivision south of Big Bend Road. A Tampa police spokesperson confirmed he worked for the department from 1955 to 1979 and retired as a sergeant.
In the five and a half minute video captured by Castillo’s body camera and released hours after the shooting, Castillo can be seen knocking on the door leading from the garage into the home. She then walks through the home, announcing “Sheriff’s Office!” as she works her way upstairs.
Once upstairs, she looks into empty bedrooms before knocking on a closed door.
“Who’s there?” Ehrich can be heard saying from behind the door.
“Sheriff’s Office, sir,” Castillo says. “It’s Deputy Castillo.”
“I’ve got a gun, you better get the hell out of here,” Ehrich says.
Castillo retreats behind a wall near the top of the stairs. A door can be heard opening, but Ehrich is not visible from the vantage point of the camera, which is pointing toward the floor.
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Castillo draws her sidearm and asks Ehrich if he’s OK.
“Put your gun down, it’s the Sheriff’s Office, sir,” Castillo says. She speaks into her radio, asking her back up to “step it up” because Ehrich is armed with a gun. She then retreats into a bedroom at the end of the hall.
“You’re out of your ... mind,” Ehrich can be heard saying.
“Sir, I just want to make sure you’re OK. Please put the gun down,” Castillo says.
“I tell you what you do,” Ehrich says. “Come out into the open and sit down. Sit down or I’ll blow you right out of the ...”
“Sir, I don’t want to do this,” Castillo says. “Please put the gun down.”
She again asks her backup deputies to “step it up.” She tells Ehrich that she’s there to make sure he’s OK, that his neighbor was concerned.
“Well, we’re going to find out,” Ehrich says. He is still not visible in the video. Castillo steps back behind the open bedroom door while continuing to tell Ehrich to put down the gun.
“Where the hell are you at,” Ehrich says and then appears from behind the door. It’s the first time he’s visible in the video, but the Sheriff’s Office blurred his figure.
Castillo immediately fires three shots. Ehrich did not fire his weapon.
“I don’t know what more she could have done,” Chronister said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting, which is standard practice for the Sheriff’s Office.
Ortiz said if Ehrich had been sleeping when the deputy arrived, he might not have been wearing his hearing aids. And if Ehrich never got a good look at the deputy to see she was wearing a uniform, he would have thought he was dealing with an intruder.
Ehrich has at least two children, according to Ortiz. Efforts by the Times to reach them on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Ortiz said Ehrich was a widower who missed his wife, who had died several years ago. Ortiz said Ehrich’s daughter told him that the night before he was shot, he went to dinner with his son and bought Christmas cards.
“She said he was excited for the holidays,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz wishes he had been the one to go check on him, as he had done in the past. He said he’s confident things would have turned out differently.
“That’s what hurts,” he said.
Times staff writer Josh Fiallo contributed to this report.