BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - Two Brevard County sheriff's agents who shot and killed a man outside the courthouse in Viera were found to be justified in using deadly force by State Attorney Phil Archer, according to Local 6 News partner Florida Today.
Robert Striffler, 51, brandished an Airsoft pistol -- a toy gun that authorities mistook for a real gun -- shutting down the government building in February. He had a history of mental illness and his sister told a deputy he wanted to be killed by police.
"He is one of many individuals that we in the criminal justice system see on a regular basis that do not get the mental health treatment they need," said Assistant State Attorney Wayne Holmes.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the shooting, following protocol. Their report recreates Striffler's last moments from the perspectives of dozens of witnesses, mostly sheriff's deputies who surrounded Striffler as he wandered the parking circle in front of the court building.
Holmes explained it doesn't matter that Striffler didn't have a real gun. The applicable law is based on appearance and "many, many times," police have encountered people who appear to be armed but are actually holding a pellet gun.
"Law enforcement doesn't have to wait until shots are fired until they can in turn use deadly force," Holmes said.
Striffler was due in court on the morning of February 28 for a hearing in which his attorneys were going to withdraw from representing him because of threats he made about killing a prosecutor. He didn't show up to the hearing. His sister alerted a secretary at the public defender's office that Striffler was headed to the courthouse, speaking of "judgement day," according to the FDLE report.
Deputies at the courthouse recognized Striffler from a previous encounter. Deputy Douglas McCarty spotted Striffler walking down one lane in the parking lot, carrying a bag. He reached into the bag, pulled out the gun and popped in a magazine.
Police confronted him, leading to a standoff. A negotiator from Palm Bay Police Department, who happened to be at the courthouse, spoke to him. Officer Cassandra Woronka asked him his name. She told FDLE he replied "Jude Love." Previously, Striffler referred to himself as "Dude Love" and "Cactus Jack" in phone calls to Melbourne police -- references to personas portrayed by professional wrestler Mick Foley.
Striffler told Woronka that he had stage four cancer and he felt the justice system was corrupt. Eventually, a BCSO commander asked her to stop and back away.
Agents planned to stun Striffler with "less lethal" weapons. They approached him in an armored truck.
At one point, he put his gun in his waistband. Sergeant Matthew Quincy Hines shot at Striffler once with a Taser XREP, which is like a Taser contained in a shotgun shell. Sergeant Tsechu Chou shot at Striffler with a 40mm sponge round.
Agent Juan Vargas told FLDE investigators he was watching Striffler through the scope on his .308 H&S Precision sniper rifle while lying prone under a tree. He said he isn't told when to shoot -- he does so at his discretion.
He told FDLE Striffler began to remove the gun from his waistband, so he put his cross hairs on the man's head and fired.
But he missed.
Vargas told FLDE he thinks it was because Hines and Chou shot him with their less lethal weapons at the same time, causing him to move.
Striffler turned and ran away from the armored car, toward the courthouse.
Vargas aimed for Striffler's left lung because the body was a larger area to hit. He placed his third shot under Striffler's nostril and knew that he hit him.
Vargas said he continued firing because he believed Striffler was a continuing threat to deputies on the scene.
Agent Chris Neel also shot at Striffler.
Neel was armed with a Bushmaster .223 rifle. After deputies fired the less lethal weapons and Striffler ran toward the courthouse, Neel saw him slow down and reach for his waistband, where the gun was. His elbow and shoulder moved like he was pulling out the gun. Neel told FDLE he shot at Striffler three times.
Striffler fell to the ground. Hines checked his vital signs and pronounced Striffler dead.
FDLE determined the actions taken by Vargas and Neel were consistent with physical evidence and other witness interviews.
"When negotiation attempts and the use of non-deadly force failed, members of the SWAT team were justified in the use of deadly force," State Attorney Archer wrote in a letter to FDLE.
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