ST. LUCIE COUNTY — A deputy who non-fatally shot a man that investigators said appeared to be “experiencing a critical mental health episode” was suspended after it was determined she drew her firearm rather than her Taser, according to records released Monday and an official.
Deputy Cortney Hoyt received a 6-day unpaid suspension and will get remedial training following the Sept. 6 incident in which she saw a 30-year-old man standing on the outside guardrail of the North Causeway Bridge.
A written statement issued Monday by Sheriff Ken Mascara marked the first time it was disclosed that Hoyt mistakenly drew her firearm, rather than her Taser electric shocking device.
The man was arrested after the incident, which appeared to escalate quickly and involved a struggle and a number of law enforcement officers.
The man made “bizarre statements,” eventually dropped off from the bridge and ran to the other side, according to officials and records.
Hoyt saw a silver object in his hand that she thought was a weapon, and told dispatchers it appeared he put away the weapon, according to an Oct. 11-dated letter from Assistant State Attorney David Dodd released by the sheriff’s office.
Meanwhile, Deputy Jorge Mendez arrived and drew his gun, telling the man to get to the ground but he didn’t do so.
Mendez switched to his Taser, and the man ran away. Mendez used his Taser, which incapacitated the man. For about 30 seconds the man struggled with investigators as they tried to handcuff him. He got back on his feet twice and removed the Taser probes.
He ran and Hoyt drew her gun and fired once, striking the man in the upper leg. The man kept running and a Fort Pierce Police officer got him to the ground.
He was arrested on charges including resisting officer with violence, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery on a law enforcement officer. His case is going through the court system, records show.
Hoyt initially had reason to detain him for a possible Baker Act, or involuntary mental health evaluation, and possession of a concealed weapon, Dodd’s letter states.
Mascara at a briefing the day after the encounter displayed a silver knife he said the man had.
Hoyt said the man was fighting deputies, and picked up Mendez’s Taser, according to Dodd’s letter.
“She recognized the confrontation had escalated and law enforcement was not overcoming the resistance of (the man),” Dodd’s letter states. “In that moment she was scared, so in her mind the best thing to do was to create distance, tase him, get him on the ground and into handcuffs.”
Thinking it was her Taser, Hoyt drew her gun. Only after hearing the sound, did she realize she retrieved the wrong weapon.
Dodd stated Hoyt’s initial interaction with the man “established bizarre behavior and a legitimate concern for his wellbeing.”
At the time Hoyt fired her gun, Dodd noted she and Mendez had cause to arrest the man on a number of charges and it was clear they were justified in using non-deadly force in the arrest.
Dodd wrote the main thing to be determined was regarding any “criminal ramifications” with the use of the firearm.
He noted the situation happened and escalated quickly and a number of factors should be considered.
Initially, Hoyt checked on the man’s well being and as things escalated she used “minimal force” to take him into custody.
Also, law enforcement officials are trained to aim a Taser at the “belt line” which is different than how they are trained to use a firearm. The area where the man was injured was consistent with the area where a Taser would be aimed.
Body-worn camera footage depicts Hoyt’s reaction afterward.
“She appears to be in shock, her hands are shaking and her reaction appears genuine,” Dodd’s letter states. “(Her) explanation that she grabbed the incorrect weapon is supported by the totality of the circumstances.”
Dodd concluded he found no criminal violation.
Still, the sheriff’s office found Hoyt’s actions violated agency training, procedures and policy.
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This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: mistakenly drew gun, not taser, in non-fatal shooting” class=”link “>Deputy mistakenly drew gun, not taser, in non-fatal shooting
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