Chief: St. Petersburg officer justified in fatal shooting
ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Charles "Chuck" Harmon and a shooting review board this afternoon cleared Sgt. Karl Lounge in the fatal Nov. 16 shooting of a disturbed man armed with a .45-caliber pistol and a machete. It was the last investigation into Lounge's actions in the death of 46-year-old Roberto Garcia-Lara. The chief's decision clears the way for the officer to return to patrol duty.
Garcia-Lara was a doctor in Cuba but struggled since entering this country in 1999. A 2005 accident left him in chronic pain and cost him his nursing assistant's job.
Then on Nov. 16, authorities say, Garcia-Lara fired a gunshot inside his bedroom. His wife, Alica Garcia-Lara, said her husband was holding a gun to his head.
St. Petersburg police officers were called to their home around 8:30 p.m. Lounge, armed with an AR-15 automatic rifle, told investigators that Garcia-Lara looked at him "several times" before stepping out of a doorway and leveling his pistol at the sergeant.
Lounge, believing his life was in danger, then shot Garcia-Lara three times. Four other officers testified that they saw the man aim at Sgt. Lounge.
Garcia-Lara died at Bayfront Medical Center at 11:45 p.m. The medical examiner later found alcohol and anti-depressants in his system.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office cleared the sergeant in December of any wrongdoing in the shooting, declaring Lounge "had reason to believe that Roberto Garcia-Lara posed a danger."
Lounge was put on paid leave after the shooting. The state attorney's report cleared him to return to the force but he was restricted to "inside" duty. He can return to patrol duty as of today. Lounge, 41, joined the department in 1990 and was promoted to sergeant in 1999.
Jamal Thalji, Times staff writer
Posted by Times Editor at 3:38:51 PM on January 22, 2009