TAMPA — Dominique Mulkey had shoplifted before.
Twice in the last five years, the 26-year-old Tampa man had been caught stealing from local stores and arrested without incident, records show. They were the only arrests on his record.
Then, on Oct. 20, Mulkey was shot to death by Tampa police in a chain of events that started out much like those previous incidents. Police say Mulkey walked into a Dollar General and was caught by employees trying to shoplift food.
This time, police said, Mulkey pulled out a handgun. Minutes later, two Tampa police officers opened fire on Mulkey when he raised the gun toward the officers, they say.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the shooting and has presented its findings to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office, which is expected to announce soon whether the officers were legally justified in using deadly force.
The shooting has raised lingering questions for Mulkey’s family.
They say Mulkey, who grew up in an adoptive family not far from where he died, was intellectually disabled and hard of hearing. They wonder where he got the gun and why he brought it to the store, but they say hunger, not malice, motivated him to steal and that he wouldn’t have harmed police. They don’t think officers needed to use deadly force that day.
“All I want is justice for my son,” said Charles Fowler, Mulkey’s father. “I want the world to see Dominique get justice.”
• • •
Dominique Javarus Mulkey was born in Tampa in 1994 to Charles Fowler and Doris Floyd, one of seven children the couple had together.
Floyd said Dominique Mulkey was quiet as a child and didn’t play with other kids.
“I didn’t notice any difference in his learning capabilities until he was maybe 4,” she said. “I really didn’t know anything about mental issues of children, but I know he had some.”
About that time, the state terminated Floyd’s parental rights and placed her children in foster care. Floyd said child services accused her of abusing some of her children by spanking them with a shoe.
Fowler was sentenced to prison about the same time. The state placed Dominique and two of his brothers, Chaz and Gionne, with a Tampa woman named Dosha Mulkey.
Fowler said he agreed to have Dosha Mulkey adopt Dominique and Chaz, Fowler’s other biological son, and he would remain in the boys’ lives, seeing them on weekends after he was released.
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The boys moved in with Mulkey at her home on John Bell Jr. Drive, near Williams Middle School in Tampa’s Northview Hills neighborhood. Dominique would live there for the rest of his life.
Fowler described Dosha Mulkey, who was in her 50s at the time, as “a good, sweet person,” a churchgoer who had her own children and adopted other young boys and raised them as a single mother. But as some of her children got older, Fowler said, they started getting into trouble.
“They were a bad influence in the household” and on Dominique, Fowler said.
Dosha Mulkey, now 78, could not be reached for this story. Messages left at a number listed for her were not returned. No one answered the door when a Times reporter visited the home on John Bell Jr. Drive recently and left a note requesting an interview.
After he was released from prison in 1999, Fowler reconnected with his children Dominique and Chaz, who were about 5 and 3, visiting them several times a month.
Fowler said Dominique had a low IQ and could be anti-social and stubborn. He was also a little hard of hearing. He attended Foster Elementary, but it’s unclear how much schooling he had after that or if he was ever diagnosed with any disabilities.
Fowler said he thought his son’s prospects for getting hired and holding down a job were slim. He didn’t think Dominique was high-functioning enough to ever live on his own.
“I didn’t want to hurt his feelings but I said, ‘No one’s going to hire you,” Fowler said. “You’d hire him and he’d tell you what to do.”
• • •
Records show that other Mulkey family members who have listed the John Bell Drive home as their address have been arrested over the years on charges that include aggravated battery, armed burglary and gun theft.
The first of Dominque Mulkey’s two arrests came in October 2015, at 21, when he walked into the Walmart at 1720 E East Hillsborough Ave., placed chips and candy and soda in a nylon bag and tried to leave, according to an arrest report. When a store employee approached him, Mulkey called her a name, pushed her and left, the report says. He was arrested a short time later by Tampa police.
Records show he represented himself in court. In an affidavit, he circled “12″ when asked how far he went in grade school. He said he did not have a history of mental illness and was of sound mind and body. A judge withheld judgment and ordered him to pay restitution and court costs.
Later, Mulkey wrote a note to the judge by hand about the amount he owed.
“I agree to pay the court costs but I can’t,” he wrote. “I need to go to court in (sic) get this over with so I can move on. I (sic) trying to get a job in (sic) do the right thing.”
He wrote a similar note to the judge the following month, saying he was still trying to get a job and couldn’t afford the court costs. The judge denied his request for a rehearing.
Fowler said he tried to persuade Dominique to apply for disability benefits so he would have his own income, but he didn’t want to go. He kept to himself, playing video games in his room, Fowler said. Fowler and his daughter occasionally brought food to the house or took Dominique and Chaz out to eat.
Floyd said she reconnected with her children Dominique and Chaz around 2015, after both sons had turned 18, and also brought them food on occasion. She said Dosha Mulkey was having trouble paying her bills. Court records show Dosha Mulkey fended off a foreclosure attempt on her home last year.
“I should have let them live with me,” Floyd said. “I should have been more of a mother.”
Chaz Mulkey, 24, has been staying with Floyd since his brother’s death. He did not return a voicemail message seeking an interview.
In August 2019, the manager of a Family Dollar at 4002 N 50th St. asked Tampa police to issue a trespass warning to Dominique Mulkey because he was suspected of shoplifting from the store in the past, according to a report. In a field in the report, the officer entered “mental disability” but included no other details.
Mulkey was back at the store a few months later. On Nov. 30, he hid unspecified items valued at about $40 in his clothing and walked to the store counter, where he removed the price tag on a pack of batteries, a report says. He then tried to leave but a store manager locked the doors. He was arrested and charged with petty theft and trespassing.
Mulkey remained in jail as the case proceeded. Two days before Christmas, a judge granted a public defender’s request to have a psychologist evaluate Mulkey to determine if he was mentally competent for the case to proceed. The psychologist’s findings are not public record, but the case proceeded.
Mulkey pleaded no contest Feb. 6, was found guilty and sentenced to time served.
• • •
It was about 9:20 a.m. on Oct. 20 when Mulkey walked into the Dollar General at 3110 N 50th Street, about a mile from his home.
Police say he filled a black trash bag with items including a box of Cheez-Its and Ruffles potato chips and was confronted by two store clerks, who took the bag and began to walk away, according to store surveillance footage released by police. Then Mulkey pulled out a handgun, and a clerk gave the bag back to him, police said. One of the clerks called 911.
Two officers responding to the call spotted Mulkey a few blocks north of the store, walking north along North 50th Street and carrying the black bag.
One of the officers was wearing a body camera. In the portion of the video released by Tampa police, an officer orders Mulkey to get on the ground and show his hands. Mulkey drops the bag and continues walking away, then turns back toward the officers. The officer wearing the camera can be heard ordering him to “drop the gun” and warning the other officer, “He’s got a gun.”
Police said that when Mulkey turned back towards the officers and raised the gun, they started firing. The video that Tampa police released ends before Mulkey is shot and falls to the ground.
Police released the store clerk’s 911 call, surveillance video from the store and body camera footage, posting them on YouTube.
The department has declined to release the officers’ names, citing Marsy’s Law. The voter-approved amendment to Florida’s constitution was meant to protect crime victims but is being applied by some law enforcement agencies to officers who use force in the line of duty. The department maintains that both officers are crime victims because Mulkey pointed the gun at them, and that both officers invoked their Marsy’s Law rights.
Fowler said he doesn’t see where in the video his son threatened the officers with the gun.
“They were just trigger happy,” Fowler said. “It seemed like they were at an arcade playing a game.”
In an interview earlier this month, police Chief Brian Dugan said Mulkey’s behavior indicates something was wrong with him.
“Who goes in to shoplift a bunch of food and pulls a gun on somebody and it turns into a robbery?” Dugan said. But at that point, he said, officers have to assume Mulkey, as an armed robbery suspect, is a threat to the community.
“We do everything we can to de-escalate the situation but if someone’s got a gun and they don’t want to drop it and don’t want to cooperate, you’re really limited at that point,” he said.
Master Patrol Officer Darla Portman, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, told the Times after the shooting that the officers were justified in opening fire regardless of whether Mulkey pointed the gun at them.
“If he’s turning with a gun in his hand, we don’t wait for him to point directly at us before we shoot,” Portman said. “Then it could be too late and we could have a dead officer.”
The day before Thanksgiving, Fowler, Floyd and about a half dozen people gathered at a plot in Rest Haven Memorial Park, a couple of miles from the Mulkey home, for Dominique’s burial.
Michelle Williams, a Tampa civil rights activist, helped raise about $7,000 for the burial, including $3,000 from an anonymous donor. Williams said she doesn’t think officers needed to shoot Mulkey, based on what she saw in the video. She believes his life shows a need for the foster care and adoption system to check back with children as they’re about to turn 18 to make sure they have what they need to live as adults.
“My honest opinion, knowing the information that I know, is the system failed Dominique,” Williams said.