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Man shot by Tarpon Springs police had troubled mental history, family says

Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head Tuesday after viewing the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old Palm Harbor man shot and killed there Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer during a car show.
Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head Tuesday after viewing the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old Palm Harbor man shot and killed there Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer during a car show.
Published May 10, 2017

TARPON SPRINGS — Charlie Provenza knew it was only a matter of time.

In the almost decade since his son, Nick Provenza, was diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, he had been brought into custody under the Baker Act about 25 times because his father, or mother, or a couple of times even strangers, thought he would harm himself or others.

So when state investigators showed up at the elder Provenza's Palm Harbor home to tell him his son had been shot and killed by a police officer, he was devastated — but not surprised.

"Throughout the eight or nine years that he was struggling with this illness, I thought that one day … " he said, trailing off. "Unfortunately, it finally caught up with him, and I wasn't there to prevent it."

According to police, a Tarpon Springs officer shot Nick Provenza, 25, in broad daylight Saturday during a crowded charity car show downtown. Provenza pulled a knife on Officer Scott MacIsaac, who was working an off-duty shift at the event.

MacIsaac, hired by the department in 2011, approached Nick Provenza, who was on his bike, about 1:30 p.m. after visitors reported seeing a suspicious man, police said. The cyclist gave a name that turned up no records, so the officer asked again. Nick Provenza gave him a different name, which MacIsaac started to say into the radio. Then, he paused.

"Shots fired, shots fired, shots fired," the officer said, according to police. "He came at me with a knife."

Nick Provenza of Palm Harbor was taken to Florida Hospital North Pinellas, where he was pronounced dead. MacIsaac was placed on paid leave pending an internal investigation. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office will also investigate.

Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen waited until Tuesday to identify MacIsaac, which he attributed to concerns over the officer's safety after seeing threats against him on social media. The FDLE will investigate the threats, as well, he said Tuesday during a news conference. He refused to answer questions.

"This type of incident is difficult for everyone involved or affected," Kochen read from a prepared statement. "We offer condolences to the family and friends of Nicholas. We ask that you allow the investigating agencies the respect to complete their duties."

The shooting has sparked outrage on social media, where people identifying as friends of Nick Provenza are questioning how someone who identified as a vegan and musician, who preached peace and tolerance, could be capable of pulling a knife on a police officer.

Kochen said investigators recovered a knife. He added that MacIsaac had just completed crisis intervention training, which teaches officers how to de-escalate tense situations.

The questions led Ashley Poznoski, 23, to start a "Justice for Nick Provenza" Facebook page that had gathered about 800 followers by Tuesday.

"It's just ironic he would die this way because he was so against police brutality," Poznoski said. "He was all about peace, love."

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Charlie Provenza, 57, said Tuesday that he's waiting for the investigation to finish before drawing any conclusions. His son's medication had worn off earlier that week, and he eventually ended up at Largo Medical Center under the Baker Act.

He escaped from the hospital Friday, still in his hospital gown, his father said. He went to the mobile home he lived in with his girlfriend, grabbed clothes, then rode his bike to the car show. His father understands how he may have seemed suspicious to bystanders.

"I don't blame anyone at this point," he said.

But he did wish the legal and social services system could have done more for his son. Nick Provenza cycled in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, spending about a year at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, as his father tried desperately to find solutions.

"The system is so broken," Charlie Provenza said, "and parents are left to themselves for the most part."

Anosognosia — or a symptom that suppresses someone's ability to perceive their own illness — and the death of his sister, Marissa, three years ago of a drug overdose further complicated his situation, his father said.

That was Nick Provenza at his worst. At his best, he was a voracious reader with a brilliant sense of humor, his father said, comparing him to Robin Williams. He was a successful model for an agency in Oldsmar and a linebacker on East Lake High School's football team before dropping out after his junior year. He was a talented guitarist.

His father recalled a night a few weeks ago, sitting around a fire with his son at the mobile home park. Nick Provenza played a cover of Imagine by John Lennon — his favorite song.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, the song goes. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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