The case of a man who was accidentally shot to death by his girlfriend in her Bradenton home has come to light more than five months later.
Despite the finding that the shooting was accidental and no charges were ever filed, a Bradenton police officer has been punished for among other reasons, not turning on her patrol car’s lights and sirens or displaying any other urgency in responding to the scene.
Officer Amy Schwartz told internal affairs investigators she usually doesn’t activate her lights and sirens unless “there’s an officer down.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 21, the Bradenton Police Department responded to a report of a shooting in the 1000 block of Sixth Street East in Bradenton. Malik Gore-Bell, 20, was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in the bedroom of his girlfriend’s home.
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Gore-Bell’s girlfriend, who is facing no charges in connection to the shooting, told police that the handgun had accidentally discharged when he handed her the gun to put away. The couple had a common practice of putting his gun and drugs in the top drawer of the dresser when children were home, as they were on that day.
Within just a few hours, detectives with the multi-agency Manatee Homicide Investigative Unit and the medical examiner made the initial determination that evidence at the scene was consistent with her explanation of an accidental shooting. Likewise, the investigation ultimately concluded that the shooting was accidental.
The Bradenton Police Department did not issue a press release about the case because the shooting was deemed accidental that same day and there was no threat to the public, according to spokesman Lt. Brian Theirs.
The Bradenton Herald learned of Gore-Bell’s death when reviewing an internal affairs investigation of allegations against Officer Schwartz.
Schwartz, had been assigned as the primary officer to the call by dispatch but never activated her lights or sirens nor did she speed to the scene, according to the internal affairs report.
Instead, Schwartz drove below the speed limit at times, stopped multiple times for traffic lights and stop signs and even pulled over as her own sergeant passed her by with his lights and sirens, according to the internal affairs report.
When confronted by her sergeant at the crime scene, Schwartz said she never responds in emergency mode unless another officer is down or asks for help, according to the report.
When questioned during the internal affairs investigation, Schwartz said she could not recall making that statement but said, “it sounds like something I would say,” according to the transcript of her interview.
Schwartz has not been terminated despite four violations of the department’s general orders being sustained against her for which she could have been fired. Instead, Bradenton police suspended Schwartz for 100 hours without pay, referred her to counseling and ordered her to undergo on-going training at the direction of Chief of Police Melanie Bevan over the course of 18 months, according to a June 14 dated memo addressed to the 15-year veteran officer.
Schwartz has since returned to work.
Because of her prior discipline, which included three suspensions in the previous year, Schwartz has been labeled a “chronic offender,” according to the report.
Just after 1 p.m. on Feb. 21, Schwartz was dispatched to the reported shooting. At the time, she was on patrol in the 1300 block of 26th Street West, according to the transcript of her interview. The call was initially dispatched as a shooting, and later reported as a possibly self-inflicted shooting.
Schwartz was northbound on 26th Street West and made a right on Ninth Avenue West, but did not turn on her lights or sirens.
“I did not respond ... in lights and sirens, priority mode, because it was to me an issue of getting more information to determine the severity of the incident,” Schwartz told the internal affairs investigator.
As Schwartz headed east in the 2100 block of Ninth Avenue West her own supervising sergeant passes by her with his lights and sirens going, and she pulled over to let him by. Yet still Schwartz did not turn on her lights and sirens or rush to the scene.
Other officers arrived on scene, and still Schwartz did not change her response. She based her decision up until this point on the fact that the call was dispatched as a possible self-inflicted shooting, that the victim was reported not to be moving and that there were units closer.
Internal affairs investigators asked Schwartz about whether her sergeant questioned her when she arrived at the scene, and Schwartz said she confirmed that she was the officer he had passed on Ninth Avenue.
When asked if it was her general practice not to respond lights and sirens to critical calls, Schwartz said, “I rarely do given certain circumstances.”
Those circumstances included who’s closest to the incident, the information being relayed, the severity and the imminent danger for people, she said. The investigator asked Schwartz to reflect back on whether she would have responded in the same fashion or priority response.
“For a decision based on the information that I had at the time, I made a choice that was safer for the people around me with the information that I has in addition to myself to be able to help other people,” Schwartz said. “Knowing this, obviously a decision that’s frowned upon, I could have responded in a different fashion.”