The Pinellas-Pasco state attorney said Tuesday that a St. Petersburg police officer was justified when he fatally shot an ax-wielding man on a downtown street.
In a letter to Police Chief Chuck Harmon, State Attorney Bernie McCabe said Officer Damien Schmidt was “in the performance of his legal duties” when he shot Kenneth Sprankle five times, striking him three times.
On the night of Sept. 23, Sprankle, a 27-year-old homeless man with a history of mental issues, was in possession of a stolen firefighter’s ax and threatening several bystanders at Fourth Street and Central Avenue, police said.
Schmidt shot and killed Sprankle from 8 to 10 feet away as Sprankle approached Schmidt wielding an ax, McCabe said. McCabe concluded the shooting “was justifiable homicide.”
Schmidt, 55, is a 30-year veteran of the St. Petersburg Police Department. He was on administrative leave pending several investigations — routine protocol whenever an officer fires his weapon at a person.
Since the beginning of the year, St. Petersburg police have taken Sprankle into custody under the state’s Baker Act seven times. The act allows authorities to confine people deemed mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others for as long as 72 hours.
In the letter, McCabe also said he was concerned that the “mental health community that Kenneth Sprankle was in contact with the week preceding this incident failed to recognized the extent to with Kenneth Sprankle was mentally ill, and a danger to himself and others.”