Monday, January 22, 2018
Public safety

State says Hernando deputies were ‘justified’ in September shooting death

Hernando County Sheriff’s Office personnel have been cleared in the death of Scott Michael Chamberlain, a bank robbery suspect deputies shot in the middle of Broad Street following a speedy chase in September, according to the Florida State Attorney’s Office.

In a letter to Sheriff Al Nienhuis last week, State Attorney Brad King said he agreed with the findings of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the shooting.

"Each of the deputies acted reasonably under the circumstances and therefore their actions were justified," he said. "I recommend that the Office of the State Attorney take no action in this matter."

According to an autopsy report by the District 5 Medical Examiner’s Office, Chamberlain, 44, was shot 18 times by deputies — twice in the chest and abdomen, in the hip and leg, and several times in his back and arms. His blood tested positive for cocaine and fentanyl. His death was ruled a homicide.

• • •

Less than 10 days before his death, Chamberlain threatened "suicide by cop" — a term that means someone wants to die in an encounter with law enforcement — in a series of Facebook posts that friends and family reported to the Sheriff’s Office.

Reports from the agency detail the following events leading up to the day Chamberlain died.

Chamberlain’s friend Brooks Albrecht was the first to call. On Sept. 13, he told deputies Chamberlain had posted about "going out with a huge bang." Later, he wrote "goodbye forever."

Albrecht said when he called Chamberlain to ask about the post, Chamberlain told him there would be "blood (spatter) on the dash cam and he would be a YouTube sensation." Albrecht said Chamberlain also told him he was going to purchase illegal drugs and admitted to committing multiple crimes in recent weeks, including holding a woman at knifepoint.

Chamberlain was released from state prison in 2015 after serving eight years, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. He was convicted of home invasion with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment in Hernando County in 2007.

After speaking with Albrecht, deputies went to Chamberlain’s listed address on Mohican Avenue in Brooksville, reports said, but found only his mother, Deborah Chamberlain. She told them that her son had moved out. After more than 12 years of being drug-free, she said he had started using again and was spiraling out of control.

"I told him I was there for him, that I would help him, but I told him I couldn’t watch it anymore," she told the Times this week. "He was tired and felt like he couldn’t start over."

Later that day, deputies found Chamberlain driving a white pickup truck southbound down Sunshine Grove Road and tried to pull him over, reports said. At first, he wouldn’t stop. When he eventually did, it was near Lighthouse Baptist Church at 7399 Fort Dade Ave. in Brooksville, which he had attended.

Chamberlain refused to communicate with deputies and was taken to Springbrook Hospital in Brooksville and held under the Baker Act, a state law that allows people to be taken into custody against their will if they are considered a danger to themselves or others.

In the truck, deputies found two knives that matched those Chamberlain claimed on Facebook to have used in a home invasion.

• • •

On Sept. 22, the day of his death, Chamberlain used the same truck to rob Capitol City Bank in Spring Hill, then led more than 30 deputies on a high-speed chase down State Road 50 toward downtown Brooksville.

Along the way, Chamberlain made multiple threats to himself, deputies and a female hostage sitting in his front passenger seat, according to an FDLE report. In later interviews with investigators, Hernando deputies recalled Chamberlain ramming into at least two law enforcement vehicles. They said at times they could see him holding a knife to the hostage’s throat, or motioning it downward, as if he was stabbing her leg.

At one point, Chamberlain called the Sheriff’s Office communications center, threatening to kill the woman if deputies did not back off, the report said.

Chamberlain’s truck eventually became inoperable after running over spike strips deployed by the Sheriff’s Office. It came to a stop in the 800 block of South Board Street, just north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Chamberlain stepped out with a knife in his right hand and a cell phone in his left, the report said. A swarm of patrol cars — lights blinking, sirens blaring — surrounded him. A crowd of bystanders grew at a nearby gas station.

"Multiple HCSO deputies gave verbal commands for Chamberlain to drop the knife and get on the ground," the FDLE report said. "Chamberlain did not comply."

When Chamberlain started walking toward deputies who had exited their vehicles, the report said, one detective fired a beanbag round. Another fired four more. Still, Chamberlain kept going.

He then climbed inside an unmarked police vehicle through the front passenger door, reaching for the steering wheel, according to the report. That’s when deputies opened fire.

The report said once Chamberlain’s body stopped moving, deputies removed him from the vehicle and put him in an ambulance. A Hernando detective accompanied Chamberlain to Bayfront Health Brooksville, where he was pronounced dead.

• • •

When Detective Willard "Brian" Stephens, 43, a 13-year veteran of the agency, recounted the incident in an interview with FLDE investigators, he said "everybody" started shooting once Chamberlain entered the patrol vehicle. He was the only one of the seven deputies involved not to discharge a firearm with live ammunition, only a single bean bag shot.

Together, the other six deputies fired 39 rounds, according to the report. Those deputies were: Lt. Phil Lakin, 51, a 14-year veteran; Sgt. Scott Lamia, 41, a 19-year veteran; Detective Richard Purchase, 36, a 13-year veteran; Detective Kim Burger, 45, a 17-year veteran; Deputy Roy McLaughlin, 40, employed since 2014; and Deputy Richard Killingsworth, 27, employed since 2013.

None of the seven deputies was injured in the shooting, and all were placed on administrative leave immediately following. They returned to work 16 days later, on Oct. 8, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

While state officials determine whether deputies acted according to the law, the Sheriff’s Office is left to review their compliance with department policy and good police practices.

Over the next weeks or months, Nienhuis said the internal affairs department will review everything from radio traffic to operational procedures used during the shooting to find ways agency personnel can improve in the future.

"I’m glad that an external review of (the case) found that my deputies acted lawfully," Nienhuis told the Tampa Bay Times. "Still, anytime there is a loss of life or serious injury, we want to go back and look at it ourselves to make sure we can learn something from it... That’s the way you get better."

Chamberlain’s mother said she doesn’t blame the Sheriff’s Office for her son’s death. She and her husband, Robert, made peace with it and believe deputies did what they had to do to protect themselves and the community, she said.

To Chamberlain’s parents, drugs are the culprit.

"They are a killer, and they work fast," Deborah Chamberlain said. "They stole his soul, and it was a horrible thing to watch."

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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