Tarpon Springs police justified in shooting of 17-year-old | #schoolshooting

At the time of the shooting, multiple police officers believed the teen’s weapon was a military-style rifle and “feared” for their life.

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla — The shooting death of a 17-year-old who pointed an airsoft rifle at cars and Tarpon Springs police officers has been ruled justifiable, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

After a thorough investigation into the events that took place that evening, multiple police officers reportedly feared for their lives under the impression that Alexander King was pointing a military-style rifle toward them before two officers fatally shot him on the night of Oct. 16.

At around 9:27 p.m., Tarpon Springs police officers responded to Pinellas Avenue near Tarpon Avenue where they found King reportedly pointing a rifle at several cars and people who were inside.

According to the release from the state attorney, two witnesses near the Spartan Gas Station where King stood nearby told police he pointed the rifle directly at them. The pair ran inside the gas station for cover, then called 911 while they watched King cross Tarpon Avenue and stop on the corner of Pinellas Avenue, holding the rifle up and pointing it toward the intersection.

The first responding officer reports when he arrived at the gas station, the teen pointed the rifle directly at him. The officer said he immediately got out of his police cruiser, ducked for cover behind his car and called for other officers to respond to the area. 

The officer said he could hear King yelling, “shoot me, shoot me,” while continuously pointing the rifle toward the officer and other cars driving by. According to the release, the officer feared for his life, not knowing at the time that the rifle was an airsoft gun.

A second officer who responded saw the teen still standing at the corner as he pointed his airsoft rifle at cars and people, including the second officer responding. He too exited his patrol cruiser and took cover behind his car. This officer also reports hearing King yell, “shoot me.”

As more officers responded to the area where the teen was believed to be aiming a military-style rifle, body camera video and cell phone video shows two officers “running toward the threat,” Chief Jeff Young said.

RELATED: Tarpon Springs PD: 17-year-old killed after pointing airsoft rifle at cars and officers

Another person’s video shows the teen putting the rifle, which police say they did not know was an airsoft gun, to his shoulder “taking aim” at the officers who were using a car for cover.

Authorities said the teen held the rifle up to his shoulder and aimed at the two officers who were afraid that King would shoot them. That’s when both of the officers fired gunshots at the teen.

King was hit by four bullets, fell to the ground and dropped the rifle.

After further investigation, police learned that the military-style rifle was in fact an airsoft gun that resembled “a real gun.”

The video that shows King pointing the gun at different people also shows him “pull the slide back and charge the weapon,” officials say. This action further reinforced the belief that police were encountering someone with a real gun that could cause deadly harm. 

RELATED: Police: Teen carrying military-style rifle killed in officer-involved shooting

Police also noted that the weapon appeared like a real gun with metal, a wood faux stock and firing mechanism, except for a faded orange tip which “unfortunately officers could not observe” the night of the incident.

On the night of the shooting, King’s sister spoke to law enforcement and told them that he was upset and angry at his home because she told him he could not stay at her house for the night. 

She told officials that her brother threatened to kill himself while holding a knife in his hand, told her to call the police and left the house with his airsoft rife just before 9:30 p.m.

His sister did not contact the police after King left the house making suicidal threats, authorities say.

The Tarpon Springs Police Department learned that King has had seven Baker Act proceedings, which is the voluntary admission of a person for psychiatric care, over the past five years for “self-injurious behavior” and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

From 2016 to 2019, King has had many battery assault incidents with other students, school employees and a school resource officer at both his secondary school and high school, according to the State Attorney’s Office. 

In 2017, King kicked and choked a school board employee before reaching for the school resource officer’s gun. And in 2019, he underwent a threat assessment that resulted in his removal from East Lake High School. During his assessment, authorities say, King made statements that “he wanted to commit suicide by cop.”

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office provided mental health counseling and follow-ups to track his progress after those events. However at the end of the year in December 2019, King approached law enforcement officers with knives during a domestic call for service and made additional threats and self-harm statements, authorities said.

As a result of what happened on the night of Oct. 16 and reviewing body camera footage, cell phone video, witness testimonies, 911 calls, photos, autopsy photos, and other materials, the State Attorney’s Office concluded that the death of King was a justifiable homicide. 

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