A Bradenton Beach police officer was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting of a suicidal veteran who charged at the officer with a knife and a hatchet in December — a tactic commonly called suicide by cop.
The Palmetto man is now charged with aggravated assault against that officer.
On the night of Dec. 30, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office received a call from Douglas Schofield's sister reporting that he appeared to be suicidal. The sheriff's office was able to trace the location of his cellphone to Anna Maria Island. Deputies and police officers from Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach saturated the island until they found Schofield's gray Honda Civic.
The Honda Civic, with Schofield sitting inside, was found at the intersection of Gulf Drive and Pine Avenue by Bradenton Beach police officer Eric Hill, Holmes Beach Chief of Police William Tokajer, officer Christine LeBranche and sheriff's deputy Amy Leach.
Schofield was ordered to get out of his car before he came out armed with a hatchet and knife. Police said Schofield spoke of wanting to die and charged at Hill. As a result, Hill fired his gun, shooting Schofield in the stomach while Leach simultaneously deployed her Taser.
On April 30 — following a four-month investigation — the Florida Department of Law Enforcement handed over its findings to the State Attorney's Office concluding that the accounts of events by those involved and witnesses were all consistent with one another and the physical and video evidence. In a letter to Bradenton Beach Chief of Police Sam Speciale on May 1, Chief Assistant State Attorney Heather Doyle said the shooting had been ruled justified and the case would be closed.
The Bradenton Beach Police Department closed its investigation two days later, concluding that Hill's actions were justified and that he had not violated department policies or procedures. Hill was not shooting to kill Schofield, Speciale said, and it's not how he trains his department, rather they "shoot to stop a threat."
"I was confident of the outcome of the investigation and was glad that because of the actions of my officer and the other officers at the scene no one else was injured," Speciale said in a written statement to the Bradenton Herald. "I hope that Mr. Schofield after serving our country is able to get the help he needs."
A week after Hill was cleared, the State Attorney's Office formally filed a case against Schofield, charging him with one count of aggravated assault against Hill. Schofield was arrested on a warrant on May 14 and released that day on a $25,000 bond.
Schofield's defense attorney, Brett McIntosh, does not intend to contest that the shooting was legally justified, he told the Bradenton Herald.
"But for the life of me, I cannot understand why we haven't come up with better techniques for handling a situation where someone tells us that they are trying to commit suicide," McIntosh said.
Schofield nearly died and spent weeks recovering at a hospital, according to his attorney. He was then transferred to the VA Hospital, where he was able to seek the mental heath assistance he needed.
"This guy is an American hero," McIntosh said.
The veteran served 26 years as a U.S. Marine and completed five tours, McIntosh explained.
"It's sinful that we aren't doing a better way as a country to take care of these people who come back and are dealing with this," McIntosh said. "To add injury to insult to this Marine, he gets released after he finally gets stabilized physically and mentally, and they come arrest him. I don't get that."
McIntosh explained how this case brought to light the issues surrounding how mental illness is addressed in the community and by society. Until the community and society are ready to spend the money necessary to address the problem, he does not see an end.
In Schofield's case, McIntosh is hoping it can be resolved quickly and through a diversion program, he said.
"In no way does this protect the community," he added.
Because Schofield was hospitalized after the shooting, the sheriff's office had submitted a capias request to the state seeking to charge him with aggravated assault, according to court records. The report, however, details how Schofield — a veteran Marine — was suffering from PTSD at the time of the shooting and was in the process of getting a divorce.
His sister told detectives that he had begun making suicidal threats in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
Schofield tried to get help, the capias report states, but the VA Hospital allegedly turned him away.
On the day of the shooting, Schofield had been out longer than expected after saying he was going to the store. His sister said she received a text message from him that said, "He was sorry it had to be this way." In the messages that followed, he told his sister whom he wanted at his funeral and to whom he wanted specific possessions to go.
Concerned for his safety, Scholfield's sister called the sheriff's office and ultimately witnessed him being shot by police.