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State attorney: Tampa police justified in fatal shooting

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — There will be no charges filed against Tampa police officers who fatally shot a 26-year-old Black man who pulled a gun on them and rammed a patrol car during a traffic stop in April, Florida prosecutors said Thursday.

Jonas Joseph, who was suspected in a drive-by shooting five days earlier, opened fire on the officers as he tried to escape around 11:30 p.m. on April 28, police said. They had stopped Joseph to ask about the shooting which involved a car that matched the description and license plate of his white Chevrolet Impala.

The six-page report from the Hillsborough County state attorney’s office said officers were justified in shooting Joseph because he pointed a gun at them. The officers feared for their lives, and the lives of others, the report said.

Five police officers fired the seven bullets that killed Joseph, the report said. Police fired 125 times in 27 seconds and 118 of the shell casings were recovered. There were no shell casings found from two guns investigators recovered from Joseph’s car.

“Although a lack of shell casings from Joseph suggests he did not fire his gun, it is equally plausible that casings were simply never located,” the report said. “Even assuming that Joseph did not fire the gun in his hand, his action of pointing a gun at police officers would be enough to establish that the officers were in imminent fear for their lives or the lives of others.”

After the report was released, Joseph’s family and their representatives held a news conference in which they called on the FBI to look into the investigation, according to the Tampa Bay Times. They argued that the report contradicted officers’ claims that Joseph had fired his gun.

“The stories have changed so much that it’s becoming confusing to test the credibility of law enforcement, especially the Tampa Police Department,” a family spokesman, Pastor Carl Soto, said outside the police agency’s downtown headquarters.

In a news release Thursday, police chief Brian Dugan said ballistics tests proved Joseph’s gun was used in the shooting that officers were questioning him about.

“The last thing officers want to do is use deadly force,” Dugan said. “Regardless of the circumstances, we acknowledge the grief of the family and community.”

Joseph cooperated when he was initially pulled over, the report said. But as officers asked about his whereabouts on the night of the shooting, his demeanor changed. He backed into a patrol car that had pulled in behind him as he tried to flee. He then drove forward and crashed through a fence, then hit a tree in a yard, the report said.

The report said seven officers ran toward the car and each saw Joseph pointing a chrome or silver handgun at them through the rear windshield. They said they heard or saw the muzzle flash from one to three gunshots fired from inside the car.

As five of the officers opened fire, Joseph ducked down in the front seat, according to the report.

“After a brief pause, Joseph then began to climb out of the car through the open driver’s window with his gun still in his hand. Officers then opened fire again and ceased firing when Joseph fell to the ground,” the report said. He died at the scene.

Forensics from the gun found in Joseph’s car, and shell casings recovered at the April 23 drive-by shooting scene, confirmed the gun was used in that incident, the report said. Someone inside the house was hit by a bullet but survived, the report said.

There is no bodycam or dashcam video of the April 28 incident, according to the report. The only known recording is from a FaceTime conversation with no audio, shot by a neighbor across the street from the scene, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The names of nine officers who responded to the scene that night are not being released by the state attorney’s office, the newspaper reported. Officials also did not release the officers’ races.

Officials said the officers are victims of an aggravated assault by Joseph and subject to Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in 2018. The law is meant to protect crime victims, but it deprives the public of information that had long been made available in Florida under the state’s public records law.

The report found that none of the nine officers had any past finding of improper use of force from the Tampa Police Department’s Internal Affairs division. Two had been involved in a previous use of deadly force and both were found to have properly followed the use of force policy, the report said.

Associated Press

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