Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

State attorney finds St. Pete police shooting justified

TBO.com staff
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Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has determined that the fatal shooting of a St. Petersburg man by police earlier this month was justified.

Lealann Russell Melder Cooley, 46, was shot dead by police on Sept. 7 when they say he threatened them with a rifle at his home.

Lt. Gregory Totz and officers Christopher Turbee, Michael Carter, Michael Karayianes, David Kimes and John Phifer fired on Cooley when he confronted them, police said.

The police department’s Internal Affairs Division is reviewing the case and Chief Charles “Chuck” Harmon will hold a Shooting Review Board once review is done. The officers involved remain on administrative duty.

The officers were investigating a call of shots fired in a neighborhood near 40th Street North at around 1:43 a.m., but left the scene after not finding anything.

They were called back to the same neighborhood at about 3:36 a.m. because of a complaint about loud music. That’s when they heard gunshots coming from 3311 40th St. N., police said.

As seven officers approached the house, they saw Cooley, 46, standing on porch, armed with a .44 Magnum revolver, police said.

When the approaching officers told Cooley to put down the weapon, he put down the handgun but got a lever-action rifle from inside the front door, police said. Cooley headed toward officers with the rifle, who then fired on him, police said.

Cooley was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators found that he had suffered more than a dozen gunshot wounds and had not fired the rifle. The review found officers fired nearly 60 times at Cooley.

Cooley had told his wife earlier that he was going to have a standoff with police. “I’ve had enough. I can’t live any longer. If you want to leave you go ahead and leave, too, ‘cause it’s going down tonight. The cops are coming.”

Police said investigators found other weapons inside the house, including a shotgun and a bandoleer of shotgun ammunition just inside the front door. In one of the bedrooms, two rifle cases and assorted ammunition were found scattered on the bed and the floor near the bedroom closet.

Neighbors reported that Cooley had been shooting a gun in his backyard throughout the previous day and into the morning, and was also the one playing the loud music that promoted the initial complaint, police said.

Cooley’s wife and 16-year-old daughter told investigators that he had been drinking heavily and acting strangely throughout the previous day, and had been taking his guns out and loading them while acting paranoid and making suicidal threats, police said.

Due to Cooley’s behavior, his wife and daughter had left the house on Friday to stay with relatives.

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