JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Days after an unarmed man dodged a bullet during a traffic stop, it’s still not entirely clear what led a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer to open fire.
The man’s supporters took to social media on Wednesday to share his side of the story, saying the man had been holding his daughter’s asthma inhaler when the officer fired Monday night.
Officer J.C. Garcia hasn’t been placed on leave in the wake of the shooting, a JSO spokesperson said Tuesday.
The officer drew and fired his weapon under the mistaken belief that the driver was holding a gun. In fact, Brian Dennison, 29, was unarmed, and had his 6-year-old daughter in the car with him.
According to the police report, Garcia spotted a green Ford Focus driven by Dennison speeding through a parking lot near West University Boulevard and St. Augustine Road. Garcia began following the car, and said it blew through a stop sign as it turned onto DuPont Station Road, nearly hitting another car and heading the wrong way toward St. Augustine Road.
That’s when the officer switched on his lights and siren, following the car until it turned into Plantation Apartments in the 7000 block of South Old Kings Road and parked.
At a media briefing early Tuesday, Assistant Chief Chris Butler told reporters the officer initially believed the suspect was armed so he pulled out his own weapon and fired. The Dennison family is extraordinarily fortunate that officer Garcia is such a bad shot that he missed his target; as the community that this stray bullet did not cause any collateral damage.
Dekierian Cook, Dennison’s cousin who said he overheard the commotion at the scene, was puzzled by the shooting. “I think he just shot to shoot, you know. There’s really no reason.”
According to Cook, Dennison was speeding after 9 p.m. because he was rushing home to get medication for his daughter, who had begun suffering an asthma attack. “She’s got really bad allergies,” Cook said.
Although JSO acknowledged the shooting during the media briefing, the police report from the incident makes no mention of the shooting. When First Coast News asked why that detail wasn’t included in the arrest report, JSO spokesperson Melissa Bujeda explained, “The shooting is a separate investigation.”
A second incident report, routed to JSO’s Cold Case Unit, was just four sentences long and contained no explanation as to why the officer fired his weapon:
On 11-24-14, a JSO Patrol Officer conducted a traffic stop on a suspicious vehicle at 3900 Toledo Rd. During the traffic stop the Officer fired his handgun one time. No one was injured. The Cold Case Unit will follow up the investigation.
This was the first shooting for Garcia, a five-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Office, Butler said. The shooting is under investigation, but Garcia wasn’t immediately placed on leave.
“Being placed on leave is not automatic for every situation. It is up to staff to determine what will be done. Each investigation is unique and investigated as such,” Bujeda told First Coast News.
Dennison was arrested on misdemeanor charges of knowingly driving with a suspended license and driving with a suspended license. He is currently in the Duval County Jail.
Garrett Pelican, “Officer fires at unarmed suspect during traffic stop”, First Coast News, November 26, 2014, http://www.firstcoastnews.com/story/news/local/2014/11/25/officer-opens-fire-traffic-stop/70100748/