"State Attorney's Report on Hydra Lacy Shooting Clears Officers; Praised Their Heroism." That was the headline on a Feb. 24 story posted on the Website of the St. Petersburg Times (www.tampabay.com). The story was a synopsis of the state attorney's report on the Jan. 24 tragedy that resulted in two SPPD officers and a suspect dead, and a deputy U.S. Marshal seriously wounded.
The state attorney's report mirrors SPPD's preliminary timeline summary of events. SPPD's investigation continues, and ultimately, a "tactical review" will determine its findings, including "lessons-to-be-learned" from this tragedy.
I've read both the state attorney's report and SPPD timeline and summary. I've read both reports, and combined, they provide a vividly chilling picture of how what began as a suspect search turned so horribly tragic on the morning of Jan. 24.
The tragedy that happened in St. Petersburg could easily happen to any of us. Virtually every day throughout America LEOs conduct similar suspect searches, the vast majority of them without incident. However, in St. Petersburg things went horribly bad.
Let's take a look at what we know from the preliminary reports. Officers went to interview the fugitive's wife, and they learned he was inside the home and possibly armed. They called for backup and established a perimeter.
A K-9 led entry team cleared the downstairs of the home, with only the attic (accessible via trap door) remaining. Throughout the entire search, officers repeatedly announced and ordered the suspect to give up. No response.
Employing a ladder, officers first employed a telescoping tactical mirror (negative results). Then, the K-9 (former SWAT, athletic) officer climbed up into the dark, cramped attic, with light-mounted weapon and flashlight deployed, and backed up by a Deputy Marshal and detective (atop the ladder). Officers continued announcing and ordering the suspect to give up. NO response.
The initial attic search was negative, but the K-9 officer went further into the attic. There he discovered, covered and challenged the prone suspect, who was facing away from officers and wearing only boxer shorts.
The K-9 officer commanded the suspect (who appeared to be complying with commands) to crawl back to the officers. As he did so, the deputy U.S. Marshal transitioned from his firearm to his TASER.
It appears the K-9 officer was about to handcuff the suspect (who continued to appear compliant, including verbally). The marshal perceived a threat and fired his TASER, striking the suspect. Almost simultaneously, the 6-foot, 4-inch 284-pond suspect suddenly lunged at the 5-foot, 6-inch 165-pound K-9 officer, and the deputy heard them "tussling." While being TASERed, the suspect acted verbally compliant.
Then the Marshal heard a gunshot, and fired his TASER again. There were three rapid gun shots, and the Marshal saw the K-9 officer roll off the suspect. The Marshal transitioned to his firearm and was shot twice (lower front vest and groin) and fell back through the attic opening onto the detective and onto the floor. The suspect began to fire rounds from the attic through the ceiling at officers.
An SPPD officer pulled the wounded Marshal into a bathroom. Other officers called to the downed K-9 officer (no response) and issued commands to the suspect, who responded by firing random gunshots in the direction of the officers' voices.
Officers made a 10-24 call (emergency, all units respond).
Although preliminary, the details from these reports paint a very different picture from the one originally reported. That officers had entered and searched the attic knowing an armed/dangerous, wanted fugitive felon was up there.
The reports indicate otherwise. That officers systematically searched the downstairs, using a K-9, leaving the attic for last. They also repeatedly ordered the suspect to give up with no response, sound, or movement by the suspect.
Even when officers climbed into the attic, they continued making announcements and orders. Again, no response.
When the suspect was eventually discovered, he was proned out, hands visible, facing away, wearing only boxer/gym shorts. Officers continued to cover him with their weapons and lights, and ordered him to crawl back to them. The suspect did so, appearing to be compliant.
It wasn't until the K-9 officer was handcuffing the suspect that he suddenly became combative. The confined, cramped, and dark attic hampered effective self-defense and made maneuvering extremely difficult. As did the suspect's considerable size advantage over the K-9 officer.
The suspect withstood multiple TASER activations as he continued fighting and was able to retrieve his 9mm pistol, shooting and killing the K-9 officer with two close-range shots to the head. The Marshal was shot while transitioning from his TASER to his firearm.
The effect of the suddenness and savagery of the suspect's attack is classic "surprise, shock, and speed". And although these officers were well prepared, experienced, equipped, and trained, they were caught in the kill zone of a deadly ambush.
Editor's Note: Read the second part, "St. Petersburg After-Action Report (2 of 2)."