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A deputy shot a Tampa man with a history of cutting himself. His family says it was an overreaction.

Jesus Calderon, inset, was fatally shot by a Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy in front a home on Gregory Drive on March 19. The Sheriff’s Office says Stabins had no other choice because Calderon charged him with a knife, but a niece of Calderon’s who witnessed the shooting says Calderon was advancing slowly enough that Stabins could have taken other, non-lethal measures. [Main photo by McKenna Oxenden, Times staff. Inset photo courtesy Miguel Crespo]
Published Apr. 12

TAMPA — Xiomara Leon sat hunched in a white plastic chair, a leopard print blanket draped around her shoulders to ward off the morning chill.

The previous afternoon, Leon's uncle, 52-year-old Jesus Calderon, had been sitting in the same chair in the driveway of his family's home on Gregory Drive when a Hillsborough deputy arrived. Leon had called 911 because Calderon had intentionally cut his hand with a knife.

This scenario by now had become routine. Seven other times in the previous five months, family members had called for help after Calderon deliberately cut himself. In each case, Calderon was taken into protective custody and dropped off at a mental health center without showing any aggression toward deputies or paramedics, records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show.

The eighth call, on March 19, ended differently. As Leon watched, Hillsborough sheriff's Master Deputy Kevin Stabins shot her uncle in the driveway.

PREVIOUS STORY: Hillsborough Sheriff: Deputy fatally shoots man armed with knife

The Sheriff's Office said Calderon charged Stabins with a knife and the deputy had to use lethal force. Leon says Calderon was walking slowly toward Stabins, not charging him. Calderon's family says he was a gentle man with mental disorders who was expecting to be taken into custody for treatment.

"He was a good person," Leon said. "He didn't need to shoot him."

•••

Calderon was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New Jersey and then to Tampa. Records show a few arrests in Florida, including a DUI charge in 1997, and he served jail time for cocaine possession in 2004. After that, he stayed out of trouble.

Calderon worked a variety of jobs over the years, most recently washing cars for a friend's business, said his nephew, Miguel Crespo. Then, a couple of years ago, Calderon had brain surgery in New Jersey and remained in a coma after the procedure.

He wasn't the same when he emerged, Crespo said. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and started having frequent seizures. He took medication for the conditions, but sporadically.

Calderon moved into the north Hillsborough home on Gregory Drive with his sister, Grisselle Calderon, about a year ago. He was now collecting disability benefits but did what he could around the house, cleaning and cooking.

His family says he was never violent.

"He had his problems, but he wouldn't harm anybody," Crespo said.

Last year, Calderon began to cut his arms and hands with sharp objects. When he did, family members called 911, though incident reports describe the cuts as superficial. Calderon didn't know English, so family members translated for responding deputies.

Under state law, a person can be taken into protective custody and placed in a psychiatric unit if authorities believe they're suicidal, homicidal or their psychiatric condition will worsen if they do not voluntarily seek treatment. The law allows the patient to be held involuntarily for up to 72 hours.

Calderon had come to expect that he would go to Gracepoint, a mental health center in Tampa, his family said. There, he would be assessed and medicated.

"He knew he needed treatment," Crespo said.

Calderon's family made their first call to 911 on Sept. 7, records show. Calderon was bleeding from his right wrist when Deputy Clevaun Fluellen arrived.

According to his incident report, Calderon "randomly became upset for unknown reasons and began cutting his wrist with a kitchen knife." The report says Calderon had been diagnosed with a condition — the specifics are redacted — and was not taking medication for it. He was taken into custody under the Baker Act, as he would be for the next six calls.

Three weeks later, on Sept. 29, Calderon picked up a carving knife in the kitchen and made a superficial cut to his left wrist.

"I believe that without proper care or treatment, Jesus is likely to cause serious harm to himself in the near future," Deputy Michael Grace wrote in a report.

Grace was back five days later after Calderon's niece called because he'd cut himself with an eyebrow razor, a report says. Calderon told Grace he didn't know why he'd cut himself.

When Grace arrived Jan. 6. because Calderon used a kitchen knife to cut his hand, Calderon refused medical treatment, began to cry and said he "no longer wanted to live," a report says. Grisselle Calderon told Grace her brother was out of his prescribed medication and had been for some time.

Deputy Jessica Hallberg-Calebro responded to the next two calls, on Jan. 27 and Feb. 23. Both times, reports say, Grisselle Calderon said her brother was out of his medication.

On March 18, the day before the shooting, Jesus Calderon dropped off his prescription, Crespo said.

"He was going to go pick it up the next day, but he never got the chance to," he said.

•••

Calderon seemed fine that morning, joking and laughing at the north Hillsborough home, Crespo said. Then Calderon came to Leon, his niece, with small cuts on his hand.

She called 911. Stabins, 42, was the first deputy to arrive.

A 19-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, Stabins had never fired his service weapon. The biggest blemish in his personnel file came in 2006. In an incident recorded by his dashboard camera, Stabins pulled over a woman who was rushing to a local hospital because she thought her father was having a heart attack. When the woman got impatient and drove away, Stabins pulled her over again, yanked open her door, put her in an arm lock and tried to drag her out of the car. Stabins was suspended for five days.

When Stabins arrived at the home March 19, Calderon was sitting in a chair in front of the garage. He was holding the knife, according to the Sheriff's Office.

As she sat in the same chair the next day, Leon, Calderon's niece, said he was still holding the knife when he started walking toward Stabins.

"Like this," she said, standing up and placing one foot slowly in front of the other.

Leon said Stabins shouted at Calderon to stop, but her uncle kept walking. She said Stabins fired three times and her uncle collapsed on the pavement.

Crespo ran out of the house when he heard shouting and gunshots and arrived to find Stabins standing over his uncle. Grisselle Calderon ran toward her brother but Crespo held her back as she shouted, "Why did you shoot my brother?"

Calderon was rushed to AdventHealth Tampa, where he was pronounced dead.

The investigation into the shooting is still underway and Stabins remains on routine paid leave, said sheriff's spokesman Danny Alvarez.

The Sheriff's Office does not equip its deputies with body worn cameras. Officials would not say whether investigators had obtained video of the shooting from another source, such as a dashboard camera or nearby security camera.

After the shooting, a reporter asked Sheriff Chad Chronister why Stabins couldn't use non-lethal means to stop Calderon. There was no time, Chronister said.

"When the deputy first approached the subject and came in close proximity, he didn't see the knife until the subject jumped up and aggressively began displaying the knife, advancing toward the deputy," he said.

Chronister said the case highlights the growing need for mental health treatment in the community. Alvarez said the agency's deputies are prepared for calls involving people in crisis.

"HCSO deputies are properly trained for interacting with this ever growing population," he said.

Calderon's family is consulting with an attorney as they await the results of the investigation. Crespo said the case shows the need for the agency to invest in body cameras.

"It would answer a lot more questions," he said.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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