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Police: Man with ax shot by officer had history of mental issues

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Published:   |   Updated: September 24, 2013 at 09:38 PM

ST. PETERSBURG — Once, he tried to kill himself by jumping in front of a car. Another time, by jumping into Mirror Lake. On a different occasion, he broke free of restraints at St. Anthony’s Hospital and tried to strangle himself with one of the cords attached to a machine monitoring his condition.

Since the beginning of the year, Kenneth Sprankle, a 27-year-old homeless man, run across police officers in St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park 10 times because of his mental condition, according to both agencies.

That doesn’t include the eight additional occasions when police arrested Sprankle, whether it was for stealing a bicycle, drinking from an open container or spitting in the face of a staff member at a Personal Enrichment through Mental Health Services center, or PEMHS, where Sprankle was frequently taken after his bizarre behavior came to light.

Monday night was Sprankle’s last contact with police.

Acting Sgt. Damien Schmidt of the St. Petersburg Police Department shot and killed Sprankle from 7 feet away as Sprankle approached Schmidt wielding an ax, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.

The shooting took place at Fourth Street North and Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. Acquaintances of Sprankle’s told investigators he had been seen a block away in Williams Park smoking Spice, or synthetic marijuana, within an hour before the shooting, Puetz said.

Detectives learned the ax was likely stolen while firefighters were responding to a call Saturday at the Princess Martha apartments, 411 First Ave. N.

Schmidt, 55, is a 30-year veteran of the department. He is 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. That happened twice in Pinellas Park.

The act allows authorities to confine people deemed mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others for as long as 72 hours.

“I believe without due care he might harm somebody,” Officer Don Ziglar wrote in an April 21 report after coming into contact with Sprankle.

In many of the instances, Sprankle called police himself, saying he was going to hurt himself or someone else. In other cases, he started acting strangely while already at a mental health facility.

For instance, he once got upset at a PEMHS facility in Pinellas Park upon learning he had missed a ride from there to the St. Vincent dePaul Society center for the homeless in St. Petersburg. Pinellas Park police gave him a lift to the city limits, so he wouldn’t have to walk so far, said Pinellas Park Sgt. Brian Unmisig.

Tom Wedekind, the executive director of PEMHS, said medical confidentiality laws precluded him from even acknowledging whether Sprankle was ever a patient there.

He did say, though, that the highest incidence of those who show up repeatedly at a PEMHS facility, compared to those who receive a referral and never return, are patients who abuse illegal drugs and fail to take their prescribed medications.

In addition to his drinking publicly, and police reporting him smoking synthetic marijuan before Monday night’s shooting, Sprankle told police he had spent the night smoking crack before jumping into Mirror Lake on July 2, according to a police report.

And he had started smoking the crack after he was released from a Largo facility, he said, where he had been placed under the Baker Act, the police report states.

Five days after he was pulled from Mirror Lake, he was back out on the streets of St. Petersburg. He approached St. Petersburg Police Officer Daniel Dulac and said he needed to be Baker-Acted again.

He told Dulac that he suffered from a bipolar condition and depression, as well as attention deficit disorder and that he had not been taking his medication, a police report says.

He told a different officer the same thing nine days ago after he called the police department and the officer met him at Williams Park, not far from where Sprankle was killed Monday.

“He advised if he did not receive his medication, he will snap and kill someone,” a report states.

Sprankle was Baker-Acted and taken to PEMHS.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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