9:43 PM EDT, September 16, 2010
On Thursday, our justice system rendered a verdict.
A grand jury absolved nine deputy sheriffs who fired 137 rounds at a car thief who deputies said was trying to run them over.
The jurors spoke. And that should be respected.
But Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings has vowed to do more of an investigation. And that's good too — because there are still many unanswered questions.
Questions about missing video evidence.
About conflicting witness statements.
About errant bullets that flew into apartments where children slept.
And about a car driven by Torey Breedlove that sustained remarkably little damage considering all the ramming authorities say it did.
But first, let's talk about the facts that were disclosed for the first time on Thursday — more than eight months after the early-morning shooting at the Alta Westgate Apartments near Pine Hills.
Investigators now say that deputies fired 137 rounds at Breedlove — with 22 of them actually hitting their mark.
Even State Attorney Lawson Lamar said he found the number of rounds troubling.
"The number of shots is something that not everyone is going to be happy about," Lamar said. "I'm not happy about it. Thank God nobody was hurt."
Errant bullets shattered windows in an apartment where children slept. Investigators acknowledged as much. But the FDLE report doesn't account for all the rounds, in origin and final destination.
That's one of the things Demings should deal with — accountability for each and every round his officers fired.
Still, at the end of the day, Lamar said he believed officers did what they needed to do to protect their lives from a bad man, the 27-year-old Breedlove, who didn't have a gun but was trying to hurt them with his vehicle.
I've said from day one: Anyone who tries to hurt a cop should know that move may be their last — deservedly so.
But there are still parts about this case that raise questions.
Take the video surveillance, for instance.
There isn't any.
The FDLE didn't get around to asking for the video before it was erased.
According to the report, an FDLE agent asked the apartment complex for video on Aug. 5 — more than half a year after the shooting took place. Complex managers told investigators they erase it every 30 days.
There are questions about Breedlove's car, too.
Investigators say Breedlove sealed his own fate when he tried to ram officers with a GMC Denali. Lamar said Breedlove hit multiple cars — including a Ford Explorer that Lamar said Breedlove's Denali rammed so hard that it lifted two of the SUV's wheels off the ground.
The front of Breedlove's car, however, shows little to no damage, except for multiple bullet holes through the windshield.
An assistant state attorney later said that was because Breedlove's car struck the other vehicles in odd ways, thanks to evasive moves by the deputies, that resulted in Breedlove's car being damaged on its side.
When the grand jury presentation ended Thursday, Lamar declared the case closed.
Fortunately, Demings wants to go further, promising his own departmental review and report. His reasons for doing so were somewhat eloquent.
"It is my goal to continuously strive to make this agency more transparent and better equipped to face the challenges that are revealed on a day-to-day basis," Demings wrote. "We will continue to work with our community partners and leaders to foster understanding as we move forward together cooperatively, and remain resolute in maintaining the public's trust and confidence."
Finally answering these questions and disclosing what they learn will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6141.
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