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Pasco deputy who killed armed, suicidal woman will not face charges

Bonnie Jo Figueroa-Ortiz may have been experiencing a mental health crisis, her family said, when she encountered a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Prosecutors will not file charges against a Pasco County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an armed, suicidal woman in June.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office said it has found that the deputy, who has not been named publicly, was justified in shooting 40-year-old Bonnie Jo Figueroa-Ortiz in her backyard on June 27. Her family told the Tampa Bay Times she may have been experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.

Related: Mental illness and the police: Was a deadly Pasco shooting avoidable?

The deputy twice fired at Figueroa-Ortiz as she ran toward him with a gun to her head, according to prosecutors, and she immediately returned fire once. The shooting took place in a matter of seconds, and the mother of three was fatally wounded and died at the scene. The State Attorney’s Office based its findings on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the shooting.

“(Figueroa-Ortiz) ignored several attempts by members of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to resolve the situation in a nonviolent manner and ultimately forced the deputy to use deadly force in order to protect himself and others from the woman’s irrational, aggressive and deadly behavior,” according to the State Attorney’s Office.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco addressed the shooting in a video posted Wednesday to the agency’s Facebook page. He said Figueroa-Ortiz was pointing the gun at the deputy — not at her own head — as she ran across the yard toward the deputy. He said they “started to exchange fire,” and that the woman fired “several shots.”

“Unfortunately this woman, she had a mission,” Nocco said. “I don’t know if her mission was suicide by cop or was in some way to harm somebody, but there was something going on, because a person under normal circumstances doesn’t charge at a law enforcement officer pointing a gun at them.”

Related: Previously unreleased video shows Pasco County deputies shooting unarmed man

State Attorney Bernie McCabe produced a letter dated Aug. 25 that explains why he decided not to charge the deputy, saying he was “in the lawful performance of his legal duty” and “believed he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death” when he fired.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office declined to released that letter on Wednesday. The Times requested the letter under Florida’s public records law, and the agency released it on Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office redacted the name of the deputy from the letter under Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect victims of crimes.

The Times has requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the shooting, and the agency said it is processing that request.

The body camera of the deputy who shot Figueroa-Ortiz was not recording when the shooting took place, according to prosecutors. Nocco said the deputy had turned it off during a child welfare investigation involving Figueroa-Ortiz, which was in accordance with agency policy, and had not turned it back on before the shooting.

Investigators reviewed the body cameras of other nearby deputies who also encountered Figueroa-Ortiz as she ran through the neighborhood just before the shooting, according to the State Attorney’s Office. However, none of those cameras captured the actual shooting, just audio of the incident.

The events leading up to Figueroa-Ortiz’s death began the night before, when dozens of deputies responded to the home, said her ex-boyfriend, Misael De La Cruz, who has a 2-year-old daughter with Figueroa-Ortiz. He said he’d called them after a confrontation in which she threatened to hurt herself. Figueroa-Ortiz slipped away from the house and went missing overnight. She was reported missing and deputies continued searching for her.

The name of the deputy shot fired his weapon, which is usually contained in those documents, was not released by any of the agencies involved in the case. That deputy accompanied a Department of Children and Families investigator to the home the next morning, to check on the child’s welfare.

Earlier that June 27 morning, a neighbor told the Times she encountered Figueroa-Ortiz as she was hiding in the woods. Figueroa-Ortiz told the neighbor that if deputies tried to arrest her that day, she’d pull out a gun and force them to shoot her, the neighbor said.

During the child welfare investigation, the deputy who was investigated said from inside the house he could hear Figueroa-Ortiz in the backyard, talking to neighbors, but she fled before he could lay eyes on her. He called for other deputies to help find her, including a canine unit.

When other deputies spotted her, they asked her to drop the gun, according to the State Attorney’s Office. She refused, fleeing from the deputies and firing a shot into the ground before putting the gun to her head. Then she backed into a wooded area separating the road from her backyard.

Figueroa-Ortiz ran across her backyard and toward her house, the gun still to her head, according to the State Attorney’s Office. The deputy who was under investigation had stayed in the backyard

Related: Pasco woman killed after firing on deputies, says Sheriff’s Office

As Figueroa-Ortiz ran toward him, prosecutors said the deputy fired two shots, both of which struck her. She quickly fired once and struck a crossbeam of an unfinished doorway near his head. Seconds later, the deputy shot her a third time. The State Attorney’s Office said investigators determined Figueroa-Ortiz was raising her arm again, in a shooting motion, when the deputy fired the third and final gunshot.

John McGuire, an attorney who represents Figueroa-Ortiz’s mother and two older daughters, said he’ll continue looking into the case and may take civil action against the Sheriff’s Office. He also said the deputy who shot her may have broken the law by not turning his body camera on before the incident.

“We’re going to keep investigating this and pursuing justice on behalf of Bonnie,” McGuire said.

Editor’s note: Several updates were made to this story on Aug. 28. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has turned over the State Attorney’s letter at the request of the Tampa Bay Times. The Sheriff’s Office redacted the name of the deputy from the letter under Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect victims of crimes. There is also a correction: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is processing a request to turn over records in this case under public records law. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the state agency and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office declined to turn over records.

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