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State Attorney: fatal shooting of Clearwater man by officers justified

CLEARWATER — Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has ruled that a Clearwater police officer was justified when he shot and killed a man on Oct. 19.

Those findings cleared Officer Christopher Fowler to return to patrol duties.

Jessica Fox called 911 about 12:30 a.m. that day to tell dispatchers she believed her husband could be suicidal. He had left the apartment with a gun, according to a letter McCabe wrote explaining his decision.

"Where I'm going, there is no coming back," the wife said her husband, Mitchell Fox, told her before leaving.

She asked where he was going.

"Probably to hell," he responded.

Mitchell Fox, 34, wasn't there when Fowler arrived at the apartment at 2150 Druid Road. The man texted his wife that he'd be returning to pick up belongings. The couple had endured marital trouble before the incident.

When Fox returned, Fowler confronted him. Fox, who was previously diagnosed with depression but stopped taking his medication, according to McCabe, put his right hand into his pants pocket. Fowler ordered him to show his hands.

"No," Fox told the officer, according to the letter. "You're going to have to put me down."

Fox eventually removed his hand from his pocket, pulling out a small semiautomatic pistol. Fowler ordered him to drop it, but Fox instead pointed the gun at the officer, McCabe wrote. That prompted Fowler to fire his weapon, striking Fox three times — in the torso and left leg. Fox was later pronounced dead at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

The gun, a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, had six rounds in the magazine, McCabe wrote.

"When Mitchell Fox pointed a firearm at Officer Fowler he had reason to believe that his life was in danger," McCabe said. "Therefore, it is the conclusion of the State Attorney's Office that the death of Mitchell Fox was the result of having been shot by Officer Christopher Fowler in the legal performance of his duty."

The Clearwater police's Deadly Force Review Board also ruled the shooting was justified.

"Mitchell's death and the surrounding circumstances are difficult to comprehend," said Jessica Fox, who declined to comment on McCabe's findings. "I am left with many questions that only he would be able to answer."

She said her husband was not mentally healthy and that "as a society, we must stop the stigma associated with mental illness."