© 2024 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

TPD Officer Fired After Probe Of Officer-Involved Shooting In May

A police chief stands at a podium
Lynn Hatter

A Tallahassee Police officer has been fired for violating two department policies. A report on the investigation deatils the incident, which saw Officer Damien Pearson fire six shots at a fleeing vehicle.

The entire incident lasted about 10 seconds. In May, Officer Damien Pearson stopped at the Palmer Munroe Teen Center at about 1:40 in the morning, noticing a car he thought suspicious parked in a handicap spot. Pearson parked behind the white Chevrolet Impala. That’s when its driver, 17-year-old Byron Wimberly, threw the car into reverse, hitting Pearson’s patrol car.

The impact sent the patrol car backward, striking Pearson. He was later admitted to a hospital with an injury to his right knee.

Surveillance video from the Teen Center and a nearby McDonald’s show Pearson running after the car as he shoots. Each of the six shots hit the suspect’s car, which was carrying a 17-year-old passenger, Jontavian Riley.

At the time, State Attorney Jack Campbell determined Pearson didn’t violate the law. But TPD Chief Michael DeLeo this week fired Pearson, citing department policies on response to resistance from a suspect and use of a firearm.

In an interview after the incident, Pearson told investigators he shot at the suspect fearing the driver may turn around and, in his words, “finish me.” Yet, the department claims that perception does not match what they saw on the captured footage.

Pearson shot at the vehicle as he was behind it on the drivers’ side. The department says that means the suspect was not posing an imminent threat – the threshold for using deadly force. Per the guidelines regarding fleeing suspects, “Officers are strongly discouraged from discharging a firearm at or from a moving vehicle.”

In a statement, DeLeo said, “I am supporting the investigative findings that based on the totality of the evidence that it was not objectively reasonable to believe there was an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death at the time that Officer Pearson fired his weapon."

The driver was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer. The passenger was not charged with anything.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.