Area case might be ‘suicide by cop’ — (The Gainesville Sun)

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The Gainesville Sun

By CINDY SWIRKO / Sun staff writer

Posted Aug 12, 2004 at 1:46 AM

A mentally ill Fairbanks man was fatally shot late Tuesday night by an Alachua County sheriff’s deputy who was a family friend after the man failed to comply with warnings to drop an apparent weapon.

Dead is John Michael Holman, 58, of 9424 Waldo Road, just north of the Gainesville Regional Airport. He was shot by Sgt. Pete Briggette, a friend of the Holman family. Briggette also was involved in the fatal shooting of a mentally ill man last year.
“I’m glad he’s where he wants to be,” said John Holman’s caretaker and former wife, Ginger Holman, of his death. “He was a kind and good person.”
The shooting happened about 11:20 p.m. after John Holman called authorities and reported that he had shot Ginger Holman. Three deputies and two Waldo police officers raced to the house.
John Holman came out of the house displaying what appeared to be a handgun, Lt. Jim Troiano said. Ginger Holman said it was a BB or pellet gun.
Troiano said John Holman was warned repeatedly by the officers to stop but did not.
Briggette fired, Troiano said. He would not say how many shots were fired, where on his body John Holman was hit or the location of the other officers when he was shot.
“He was walking toward the officers. We were making numerous commands to him – ‘Drop the weapon. Drop the weapon.’ But he continued to walk to them,” Troiano said. “It finally got to a point where he was shot by (Briggette). We went into the home and we found (Ginger Holman) to be alive and uninjured. We found an apology note to law enforcement saying that he was sorry for his actions.”
John Holman was taken to Shands at the University of Florida, where he died about 5 a.m.

Briggette has been placed on routine administrative leave while an internal investigation is done, Troiano said.
Troiano said it appears the case may be an incident of “suicide by cop.” That describes a phenomenon in which people put themselves in a situation that could end in their being killed by police.
Ginger Holman said John Holman had suffered from mental illness for years. He had been in facilities several times this year for attempting suicide. He would be turned out of the facilities, only to lapse back into troubled behavior, she said.
The two lived together, and Ginger Holman said she was his caretaker.
“He has been sick mentally and physically for a long time, and this has been a very rough year for us,” she said. “I’ve taken care of this man for a very, very long time. My friends were worried about my life. He wasn’t dangerous to society. He was more of a danger to himself.”
Ginger Holman said that on Tuesday night, John Holman told her he was not happy and he couldn’t stand living the way he was. She said she didn’t see an imminent danger, so she took some medication, watched television and fell asleep. She woke up to see police lights outside.
Despite his illness, John Holman was a thoughtful man, she said. He made music boxes for her and kaleidoscopes for her daughter.

Sitting in a kitchen filled with knickknacks, Ginger Holman proudly showed off a musical kaleidoscope John Holman had handcrafted from wood. A turn of a key plays the music and rotates the scope.
“As far as my physical well-being – I have a heart valve and have had maybe 10 operations – he tried so hard to take care of me,” she said. “I love music boxes, but we couldn’t afford to buy any. So he would make them for me.”
Sheriff Steve Oelrich noted that Briggette knew Holman and his family.
A man who was with the family Wednesday wrote in an e-mail to The Sun that Briggette had served in the military with, and was best man to Ginger Holman’s son.

Troiano said John Holman had an arrest record dating from the 1960s for burglaries, assaults and other crimes. He has served terms in prison.

Other cases

John Holman was the third mentally ill man killed by local officers in about a year. In September 2003, Gainesville Police Officer John O’Ferrell fatally shot William Christmas, 59, following a car chase.  Christmas had been treated for mental health problems, authorities said at the time.

In July, Briggette and another deputy shot Robert Duke, 45, in an altercation outside the Sheriff’s Office.   Duke was armed with a knife with a 4-inch blade and another knife similar to a machete with a 12-inch blade. Deputies tried to talk with Duke and twice tried to use a Taser gun to subdue him. They shot him after he continued attacking.
A grand jury review of the Duke case recommended authorities get additional training on dealing with mentally ill patients.
Oelrich said deputies get such training, but have not received special training since the grand jury report.
“This is an unfortunate case. But for my people, first and foremost, I don’t want them to have to second-guess about protecting themselves when people come out and attempt to use deadly force against them,” Oelrich said. “We get in-service training, but as a practical matter, we can’t send our people off for two or three years for training. Our people do a good job, but sometimes some people are bent on either destruction or self-destruction. I’m convinced our people use more restraint than most places in the United States.”
Local officers also have fatally shot two intoxicated young men in recent years.
In February 2001, Gainesville Police Office Jim Hecksel shot University of Florida student Corey Rice, 30, as Rice drove off from a traffic stop. Hecksel was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted by a jury.

In March 2002, Deputy Richard LaLonde fatally shot Matthew Hibbitts, 19, as Hibbitts charged at him with a sword.
With the exception of Hecksel, the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by grand juries and did not go to trial. But some of the deaths have raised questions, particularly by relatives of the victims, over whether officers could have better handled the situations.
Some say officers should have tried to disable the threatening person by shooting to wound – such as aiming for the legs – or use alternatives such as rubber bullets.
Officers generally counter that trying to wound a person, such as aiming for the legs, does not always curtail the threat.
Authorities noted that in some cases, such as with Duke, officers tried to use alternatives such as Tasers but were unsuccessful.
“We are not killers. We are trained to shoot until the threat stops, and we are trained to shoot major body mass,” Troiano said. “If you have to use deadly force, we want to use it to where it would incapacitate the person immediately because of the serious threat. It is truly a last resort.”
State Attorney’s Office spokesman Spencer Mann said the matter will be reviewed. Typically, State Attorney Bill Cervone has a grand jury review the case, Mann added.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.