CLEARWATER — Two Clearwater police officers returned to their patrol duties July 12 after Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe released a letter clearing them of wrongdoing in connection with a June 8 shooting that killed a man.
“It is the conclusion of the State Attorney’s Office that the death of Bryan Wallace was the result of Officers (Justin) Buis and (Michael) Diaz shooting him while in the performance of their lawful duties and that said shooting was justifiable homicide pursuant to section 776.012, Florida Statutes,” McCabe said in his letter dated July 9.
McCabe’s office began an investigation into the fatal shooting shortly after being informed of the incident by the Clearwater Police Department. Staff interviewed law enforcement officers and civilians, as well as representatives from the medical examiner’s office. The autopsy report and photos were reviewed, as well as evidence provided by Clearwater PD, including transcripts and disks of interviews, recording of 911 calls, and videos and photographs of the scene.
In McCabe’s letter, he gave some of the details of what occurred the night of the shooting, starting with Clearwater police responding to a 911 call about 6:24 p.m. June 8 on a report of a man with what appeared to be a gun on LaSalle Street. Five officers were assigned to investigate, but initially were unable to find the man.
About a half hour later, while Officer Diaz was responding to another call, three girls on bicycles told him they had seen a male and female arguing in the area of LaSalle Street. They said the man had threatened to shoot the woman. The description matched that of the man officers were trying to find, who was later identified as Wallace.
Diaz received word that Buis was with a male subject on LaSalle Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, so he responded to that location. That man did not match the description; however, Diaz saw another man east of the location on LaSalle Street that did.
Diaz drove to the location at 1010 LaSalle Street in a marked cruiser, and the man (Wallace) started walking away up the driveway. Diaz got out of his cruiser and told Wallace to stop and to come talk to him. Wallace did not do as requested and instead began walking away faster.
Buis arrived at the scene in his marked cruiser and began walking into the front yard of the residence. The man continued to walk away north up the driveway. Diaz again told him to stop and to come talk to him.
Wallace then “lifted up the front of his shirt with his left hand, reached into the front of his waistband with his right hand and pulled out a black handgun,” McCabe’s letter says.
When Diaz saw the gun, he began yelling at Wallace, telling him to “let me see your hands.”
The man dropped the gun and it fell on the ground, but he picked it back up and began to raise it as Diaz yelled at him to stop.
“Wallace raised the firearm a little above his waist,” McCabe’s letter says. “Officer Diaz felt that Wallace, who had already disobeyed his commands, was going to shoot him, so he fired his weapon at him.”
Diaz was in “fear for his life and the life of Officer Buis and of civilians who were in the front yard of 1010 LaSalle Street,” McCabe’s letter said.
Officer Buis also fired his weapon for the same reasons provided by Diaz, according to the Attorney General’s report.
After the shooting, Diaz made sure Wallace had no other weapons on him and both officers rendered first aid until rescue personnel arrived. They transported Wallace to Morton Plant Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 7:50 p.m.
One witness, who said she was Wallace’s cousin, claimed that Wallace wasn’t armed at the time of the shooting and police had shot him for no reason. McCabe’s letter says her account was not supported by the other evidence.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office crime scene technicians recovered eight shell casings from the scene. The medical examiner determined Wallace’s cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds.
“The actions of Wallace were such that Officers Buis and Diaz reasonably believed that using deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves and others,” McCabe said.
Suzette Porter is TBN's Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.