Shooting Raises Questions — (ORLANDO SENTINEL)

SSRI Ed note: Police called to scene of disturbance shoot eight bullets into chest of agitated man on antidepressants, carrying a knife, killing him. Police feel justified.

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Wednesday, December 25, 1991

Author: By Phil Fernandez And Linda Chong of The Sentinel Staff


The parents of a police shooting victim spent Christmas Eve questioning why their son was killed.

”He was my only son and they took him away,” sobbed Lorraine Limberg as she sat in front of her Mount Dora fireplace adorned with dozens of Christmas cards. ”I don’t feel it was right. They said he had a knife, but that didn’t give three officers the right to shoot to kill.”

John Limberg, 29, died Monday night after Eustis police officers shot at him nine times in an upstairs Eustis apartment because they said he lunged at them with a hunting knife, which had a 6-inch blade. Officials say eight of the bullets hit him in the chest, stomach and thighs.

”We are confident that this will be classified as a justifiable shooting,” said Eustis Police Chief Robert J. Templin. ”It was an unfortunate incident. However I’m reserving final judgment until the sheriff’s office completes its report.”

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting to determine if the police acted properly or if murder charges could be warranted. The probe should be finished within 10 days.

Templin has put the three officers involved in the shooting – Lt. Mike Whitaker, officers Richard Rippy and Jeff Breedlove – on paid administrative leave.

Their personnel records were unavailable for review Tuesday because Eustis City Hall was closed for Christmas Eve. But police Lt. Carmine Aurigemma said none of the officers has ever shot anyone.

Police were called to the Sandra Lynn Apartments on Key Avenue about 8 p.m. Monday after the landlord reported a disturbance. The landlord said the man, whom she described as mentally ill, was pounding on walls and shouting.

Witnesses said police arrived and briefly spoke to Limberg through an open apartment door before charging in and shooting him. The Eustis Police Department’s policy on the use of deadly force allows officers to fire guns only as ”a measure of last resort” and if ”the suspect is armed and poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to others.”

That was the situation Eustis police faced Monday night, Aurigemma said. ”The officers had no choice at that point but to meet deadly force with deadly force,” he said.

But Limberg’s parents and neighbors said police acted hastily.

”They could have shot him in the arm or in the leg or used a club on him,” said his father, Roy, who moved to Mount Dora eight years ago after retiring from his job with the city of Lansing, Mich. ”One shot would have been plenty.”

Aurigemma said officers did what they had to do. ”They’re trained to fire until the threat is eliminated. In the state of Florida, officers are trained to shoot at the center of mass. There’s no such thing as shooting at limbs or other parts.”

Lorraine Limberg said police had other options. ”If they would have called us, we could have talked him out of the apartment,” she said. ”John had a knife, and I’m not excusing him for that, but there were three of them. They had no right to shoot him in the heart. To me, they shot him like an animal.”

One neighbor, Kyle Moline, said he doesn’t understand why officers even entered the apartment since the man was alone, and no one was threatened.

”He wasn’t able to physically hurt anybody,” Moline said. ”He wasn’t going to go anywhere. There’s only one door out. They had no reason to go in there. He probably would have gone to sleep.”

But police said Limberg was a danger to residents and police.

”He was an immediate threat to others in the complex, and he had to be dealt with immediately,” Aurigemma said.

The victim’s parents said Limberg suffered bouts of depression and was sometimes subdued, although at times he could be outgoing. He had been taking anti-depressant medication.

Neighbor Allen Warner said Limberg stumbled up the stairs and smelled like alcohol as he walked by him earlier Monday evening. Later, Warner heard him shouting that ”no one loved him anymore. John was a screamin’ and a hollerin’ that he was going to kill somebody, or he was going to kill himself.”

Apartment residents said that was the first time they had heard such outbursts from Limberg, although they knew he had mood swings: ”He’s not all together, but who is?” Warner said.

After police arrived, an officer shouted questions to Limberg through an open door, asking him his name and what the problem was, said Warner, who was peeking from the doorway of an apartment two doors down the hall. He added that Limberg’s response was mostly unintelligible.

The officer was joined by three others, who all entered the apartment, Warner said: ”Someone said, ‘Put down the knife.’ Then I heard shots go off.”

Aurigemma said three of the four officers didn’t fire until Limberg lunged at them and came within two to three feet of them and said, ”I’m going to kill you all.”

Limberg’s parents found out about the shooting from the landlord, who called them.

Last Saturday night, they had taken their son to dinner in Altamonte Springs for his 29th birthday. The parents said the family was close although he enjoyed his privacy.

That’s why they supported him when he asked to move out of the house two years ago and into the Sandra Lynn apartments.

Limberg didn’t work, his mother said, because of his depression and medication. Occasionally, he would earn a few dollars cleaning some of the apartments. He didn’t drive but ran errands for people on his blue 10-speed Schwinn.

Lorraine Limberg said she was going to miss being with her son on Wednesdays, her day off from work.

”We would go to have coffee together,” she said. ”We’d go to the mall and walk.”

During one of their coffee shop sessions six months ago, mother and son broached the subject of death. ”I told him that if we died, we wanted to be cremated because everything is so expensive,” she said. ”He told me that’s the way he wanted to go, and we’re going to honor his request.”

”This won’t be Christmas for us,” said Lorraine Limberg. ”In fact, we may not be able to have another Christmas again.”

Record Number: 9112250466
Copyright 1991 Sentinel Communications Co.