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Justified: How investigators search for the facts after an officer-involved shooting

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Rickey Ramie never thought he would have to shoot Kevin Sullivan. 

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Ramie is currently Lynn Haven Police Chief, but 20 years ago he was an investigator with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. Ramie will tell you he was in his prime and maybe a little too trusting. He had a solid source in Sullivan who was feeding him good information about local crimes. 

But what Ramie didn’t know was that Sullivan was still performing burglaries every night.

“We had this chain of burglaries. When I say chain, it was almost like 30,” Ramie recalled. “It met his MO.”

Once Ramie and his fellow deputies determined Sullivan was their suspect, they trapped him in his vehicle one night. Ramie used his cruiser to stop Sullivan from driving forward and another deputy pulled in behind Sullivan. 

Thinking this was over Ramie began to step out of his car. Two things happened almost simultaneously as Ramie got out of the car. First, Ramie’s foot got caught in the seat and second, Sullivan gunned his vehicle attempting to escape. 

“I had him at gunpoint I was telling him, Kevin just stop, just stop,” Ramie said. “He turned the wheels of his car and he rammed my door and it trapped me between my vehicle and his vehicle and he drugged me down School Avenue for about 30 feet.”

Ramie fired his weapon at Sullivan from the ground. He eventually ended up behind Sullivan. And that’s when Sullivan, realizing that he couldn’t get away by driving forward, slammed the car in reverse. 

“At that time, I came up and fired several more rounds into the cab of the vehicle,” Ramie said. “And he was hit four times during the shooting, and he ended up surviving.”

Sullivan is currently in state prison serving time on an unrelated case.  

Ramie, talking about it more than 20 years later, still seemed haunted by the aftermath.

Ramie said he went through a series of emotions. He was angry because someone he thought he knew tried to kill him. He also felt persecuted in the days after the incident by the local media. 

“Yet, they didn’t know my side of the story,” Ramie said. 

He also wasn’t prepared for another officer to come to him and read him his Miranda rights.

“Emotionally at the time I had a three-year-old and a one-year-old at home and a wife and I realized how quickly my life could have been taken that night,” Ramie said. “So emotionally, you really sit back and think about how … the job you do can turn so deadly within seconds.”

Life or Death

As Ramie found, in life or death situations the world becomes narrow and small. 

A mixture of adrenaline, survival instincts and whatever training a person has all kick in at once. These situations often come down to split-second decisions that could end with their death or the death of another individual. According to investigators tasked with examining these shootings, officers respond based on their training. 

And these encounters are so traumatic, investigators said, that sometimes, in the immediate aftermath of a shooting, an officer may not even realize they fired their weapon at all.

“We have interviewed deputies and officers that don’t know how many times they shot. We have interviewed deputies and officers who didn’t know they shot,” said Jack Massey, the Special Agent in Charge for the Pensacola Region of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “They had no idea.”

Ramie, for instance, said he knew he shot, but he never once heard a bullet fire. His auditory senses weren’t functioning at the moment. 

The FDLE, Florida’s answer to the FBI, is often called in to investigate officer-involved shootings. This is not required.  Under Florida law, the agency can investigate its own officers and determine if a criminal charge is justified. But usually, the agencies prefer an outside agency to oversee the investigation and avoid the appearance of bias. 

“You gather the facts, wherever the facts take you is where we go,” Massey said. “If a deputy or officer did something wrong, they should be held accountable just like anyone else.”

When the FDLE is done with their investigation the results are given to the state attorney’s office who determines if the officer should be criminally charged. No officer in the Panhandle involved in an on-duty shooting has faced criminal charges for years – possibly decades. 

Under the law, officers can use lethal force to defend themselves, other civilians, and can use it to stop a fleeing felon. 

“If you have somebody that just murdered somebody and they are running how do you know they are not going to murder somebody else at that point,” Massey said. 

So, could you shoot them in the back at that point?

“Well, again could you? You know?” Massey replied. “Anybody could do it.”

News 13 reviewed three recent officer-involved shootings. In each case, the suspect was killed, and video was available to the public under Florida’s Public Records Law.

Gulf County

Joseph David Durman was in a stolen Ford Explorer on March 24 when he allegedly stole gas from a Bay County gas station. Bay County Sheriff’s deputies initiated a pursuit of Durman who drove down Tyndall Parkway through Tyndall Air Force Base. While traveling on 98 through Tyndall Federal Security Forces attempted to stop him. Durman rammed his vehicle into a base security vehicle two times attempting to run the vehicle off the road. 

Durman made it out of the Tyndall area, through Mexico Beach and into Port St. Joe until he was finally stopped Sgt. Richard Burkett of the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office. Burkett conducted a pit maneuver, which stopped Durman’s vehicle.

Durman and Burkett exited their vehicles. Burkett said he saw a handgun and ordered Burkett top drop it. Instead, Durman pointed the “gun” at Burkett. 

Burkett fired his handgun eight times and hit Durman five times. 

Burkett, Sgt. Rusty Burch of the Port St. Joe Police Department and Officer Earl Knobel of the Mexico Beach Police Department all told FDLE investigators they believed Durman had a gun and he was pointing it at Burkett. 

Instead, it was a battery pack.

“Those type of situations are difficult. You have folks out there are making a split decision on is that a gun or isn’t that a gun,” Massey said. “Normal law-abiding people … they’re going to drop something they have in their hands … Normal law-abiding citizens more than likely are gonna do what the police say.”

Durman Joseph David on Scribd

Chief Assistant State Attorney Larry Basford said this case hinged on two issued. 

First, one witness told investigators that Durman had nothing in his hands and had his hands raised when Burkett shot him. However, investigators determined that witness was too far away to see what happened and three other witnesses, all law enforcement officers with separate agencies were much closer and they all saw what they believed was a gun. 

The second issue, was that while Durman didn’t actually have a gun, all of the officers saw the black object and given his actions to harm officers during the pursuit had reason to believe it was a gun and that he was willing to shoot and kill them.

“In this case the officer that used deadly force had to make split second decision to use that force to save his life and the other officer,” Basford said. “In these cases, the standard that we’re looking at is, was the use of force reasonably necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” 

“(Durman) was determined not to stop or be arrested that afternoon.”

Warning: The content in the video is graphic.

Bay County

On October 11 Detective Christopher Precious and Shane Gaghan, both of the Florida Department of Financial Services, were in town to assist law enforcement efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. 

Precious and Gaghan were called to a home on Pinetree Road for a medical emergency. While they were attempting to deal with that the duo were told that Dakota Brooks was in their cruiser.

“We have a number of individuals indicating that he (Brooks) had been looting other vehicles that afternoon,” Basford said. “We had numerous statements from witnesses that he had been acting strange, or in their words, ‘crazy.’”

Cell phone video released to News 13 via a public records request shows that Precious and Gaghan confronted Brooks and that they were attempting to arrest him.  You can watch that video below.

Warning: The content in the video is graphic.

Brooks then began punching the deputies. 

“You want some of this?” Brooks shouts. “You better get the f*** back. Y’all don’t want none of this.” 

Precious attempts to use pepper spray on Brooks but it has no impact. Brooks then knocks Gaghan to the ground and attempts to take his weapon. 

As the fight on the ground continues a bystander attempts to stop Brooks by hitting him with a tree limb. Precious fired one shot and struck Brooks in the upper torso, according to the FDLE report. The fight continued and Gaghan fired a second shot, also striking Brooks. 

Brooks got up, ran through the bystander and eventually tripped on fencing in a nearby backyard. The video clip ends with the officers working to handcuff Brooks. According to the FDLE report, the officers administered first aid to Brooks but he died from his injuries. 

Again, the State Attorney’s Office determined deadly force was justified. The video clearly shows what happened, Basford said. He added that even civilians at the scene recognized the danger in the situation.  

FDLE Dakota Brooks Report on Scribd

“In this case not only did the initial officer believe that the use of deadly force was necessary we have the civilian … come to the aid (of the officers),” Basford said. ”So, it wasn’t just one officer or two officers that thought deadly force was necessary it this case civilians also thought that force was necessary due to the circumstances.” 

Walton County

Video, in this case, body camera video used by a deputy, was also vital in an officer-involved shooting in Walton County.

On May 1st, Walton County Deputy David Sanders arrived at a stabbing at a home in the 4100 block of State Highway 20.

Sanders and Deputy Karagan Hatley found Travis Leon Hayes, of Freeport, in the kitchen. The deputies attempted to coax Hayes out of the house. Instead, Hayes picks up a knife and begins coming toward Sanders while banging the knife against a wall. 

“Put that knife down,” Sanders said. 

Sanders aimed his gun and begins backing away while Hayes moves towards him.

“You ain’t no cop,” Hayes replied. “Where’s the firearm sir? Fire at me. Fire it.” 

Sanders then switches from his gun to his taser while commanding Hayes to put the knife down.

Hayes accused Sanders of not being a cop and says he is, “security from somewhere.”

“Let me see that cop car,” Hayes said. “Let me see that cop car.”

Sanders uses a taser but it doesn’t slow Hayes down. Hayes growled at him and continued to rush towards the deputy. 

“Get back, get back, get back, get back,” Sanders shouted. 

Then he fired at Hayes. 

Hayes continues moving forward but swerves out a door and lays down on a porch.

“I’ve been shot,” he said. 

This incident is a good example of how shootings in the real world don’t conform to the violence people watch on television and movies. In the real world, people who are shot do not fly backward or instantly fall to the ground, Massey said.  

“The subject gets shot while he was inside the residence. Look how far he continued before he collapsed,” Massey added. “He still had that knife.”

Walton Fdle Report on Scribd

Law Enforcement Officers are warned that an individual who is shot can still make it about 21 feet before they stop coming. If they have a weapon they can still hurt or kill the officer. 

“If you are within 21 feet you are in serious trouble,” Massey said. Officers are trained to, “shoot until the threat stops.”

Video is useful until it isn’t.

Because of the video in the Walton case the outcome was clear, officials said.

“It basically told you the story,” Massey said. “It showed verbal commands. It showed the subject coming after the deputy with a knife. That was good. Body cameras are always good to have.”

However, they are not 100 percent effective. 

There is no body camera video in the Gulf County case and the dashcam video doesn’t show the shooting. The audio from the dashcam video from that scene does reveal the officers shouting commands at Durman, Massey said.

“One of the issues is, I think the public believe if you have a body camera on then you are going to get what happened,” Massey said. “You are going to get the truth and I think sometimes if the body camera is on and you don’t see what happened then all of a sudden it is, ‘Well, what are they hiding?”

A lot can happen to block a body camera, it can get knocked loose when a deputy is rushing through a wooded area or the position of the scene can make it hard to see what happened. In the early days of body cameras, Massey worked a case where a deputy inadvertently blocked the camera on his chest when he raised his weapon to fire. 

“It was just the mere position of where the body camera was and when the deputy brought up his hands to engage the target he punched out like you would normally do but the body camera was showing the back of his hands,” Massey said. “You miss it more than you get it.” 

Justified

No officer or deputy has been charged with a crime in an on-duty officer-involved shooting in the Panhandle in decades. It’s possible that no Panhandle law enforcement officer has ever been charged with a crime in connection to an on-duty shooting. 

However, Massey and Basford point out that their agencies have not been hesitant to move forward when an officer commits a crime. 

A Parker police officer is currently in prison after he was arrested and convicted for killing his ex-girlfriend. Panama City Beach and Panama City officers were recently charged with crimes in separate incidents. And, a Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy is currently facing 50 felony counts for allegedly planting evidence in drug cases. 

In that case, his own body camera video is evidence of wrongdoing, officials said. 

Basford said the State Attorney’s Office oversees the investigation from the first moments after the shooting and then the agency’s senior leadership review the results. Usually, prosecutors determine if a criminal case is warranted. But sometimes, they decide a different group should review the case.

“If there is a possibility that reasonable people could disagree as to whether or not the use of deadly force by an officer was justifiable then that is the type of case that we would present to the grand jury,” Basford said. 


The night he shot and nearly killed Kevin Sullivan a group of deputies came to Ramie’s house and stayed with him as he attempted to process the situation.

That kind of support was vital to recovering from the situation Ramie said. 

Over the years, he’s tried to return the favor. 

“I’ve also been able to help other officers in a 27-year career and been able to help them overcome some of the fears they have,” he said. “God has used me several times to reach out to other officers who have been in similar circumstances.” 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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