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'I called for help, not for them to kill him.' Dead man's mother says Pasco deputies mishandled shooting

CRYSTAL SPRINGS — The mother of a man shot to death by deputies believes authorities were too quick to fire their weapons and used unnecessary force in dealing with her son.

Deputies shot Steve Steele, 47, after he charged at them with a knife in his hand the night of July 13, according to the Sheriff's Office. The shooting occurred in a trailer behind the home of his mother, Elsie Williams, 72, who contends the situation was mishandled.

"I called for help, not for them to kill him," she said.

The deputy who fired the fatal shot, Sgt. Brian Birge, has returned to active duty after a week of administrative leave. The Sheriff's Office and Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office said Tuesday the investigations are still pending.

Williams originally called 911 to help get her son off the property after he hit his girlfriend during an argument, she said. Steele refused to leave and, after learning his mother had called authorities, he brandished a knife and told her he would stab four to five deputies before they would have a chance to tase him, she said. He then retreated to his trailer.

When deputies arrived, they talked to Steele through a window, trying to get him to open the door. He eventually did. But, Steele then charged at them with the knife, the Sheriff's Office said.

That's when Williams heard the gunshots. They came approximately 10 minutes after deputies arrived on her property, she said. The Sheriff's Office said deputies were on the property 17 minutes before the shooting.

What Williams said she didn't hear from her front porch was a command for Steele to drop the knife. The Sheriff's Office said deputies issued several commands to leave the trailer and for Steele to stop hurting himself.

Also not apparent to Williams was a consideration by deputies of her son's mental health issues, she said. Those include a past suicide attempt and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, both of which she told deputies about when they first stepped on her property.

"There was no time for discussion as far as I could tell," Williams said.

The Sheriff's Office said deputies were not made aware of his mental illness in the initial call. The Sheriff's Office would not comment on what they heard while they were on the scene nor would it release body camera footage, 911 calls or other reports because the shooting investigations are pending.

Williams said the family has cooperated with the investigations. She hopes to bring justice to her son whom she says has been misrepresented. While Steele had several arrests in Hillsborough County between 1988 and 2001 on charges including battery and grand theft, Williams said her son was not a violent person. Steele's girlfriend told her that before that July 13 fight he had never hit her, Williams said.

Steele, instead, was on track to getting his life back in order, spending more time with his 17-year-old son and he planned to start his own construction and remodeling business, Williams said.

He was also well loved around the neighborhood because of his giving nature, she said.

"Stevie was a very good person," Williams said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back."

Contact Chris Bowling at cbowling@tampabay.com or at (813) 435-7308. Follow @chrismbowling.

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