Amid a growing firestorm of criticism, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan tried to offer some answers today after two deputies shot at and injured an unarmed man in his own driveway.
The story has garnered national attention since Saturday, when 60-year-old Roy Middleton was shot in the leg while rummaging for a loose cigarette in his mother's car. Across the Internet and social media, commenters have lambasted the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and Florida in general. Thousands of comments have been posted about the case on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. The story drew more than 15,000 recommends on pnj.com alone.
Deputies Jeremiah Meeks and Matthew White responded to a 911 call on Saturday of a possible burglary and found Roy Middleton, 60, rummaging through a car in the 200 block of Shadow Lawn Lane in Warrington, Morgan said. Middleton was searching for a loose cigarette in his mother's car.
Morgan said the deputies reported that, after they'd made multiple commands to Middleton to show his hands, he eventually lunged out of the car and spun toward them, causing them to "fear for their safety."
"As much as we are trained and as much as officers -- which have Type A personalities -- like to say we are in control, we are not," Morgan said at the conference.
During an afternoon press conference, Morgan played the 911 call made by a neighbor along with the corresponding radio traffic from officers on the scene.
Middleton has said he was in his mother's car, searching for a cigarette. When he backed out of the vehicle, he had his car keys in his hand with a metal flashlight attached, he told his mother. The deputies opened fire.
It was at that point that Ceola Walker, 77, who was sleeping inside, awoke to the commotion.
"I heard the shots," she said. "(The deputies) told me to close the door and not come out. They called an ambulance for him."
Middleton suffered shattered bones in his left thigh that will require the insertion of a metal rod.
A Baptist Hospital spokeswoman said Middleton is currently listed in good condition. Walker said she expects her son home by Wednesday.
The incident is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the deputies involved have been placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard in deputy-involved shootings.
Morgan said Middleton has spoken with FDLE investigators.
Meanwhile, Walker and her relatives were still assessing the damage at Walker's home this morning. In her driveway, her white Lincoln Town Car still sat speckled with several bullet holes. In her carport, 17 shell casings had been found, family members said.
Walker's son-in-law Frank Middleton, 66, who described Roy Middleton as a lifelong buddy and an easygoing guy, said he was astonished by the shooting.
"I didn't know what to think," he said. "I couldn't believe all this stuff was happening. I mean he's a good, smooth-talking guy. You'd never believe it."
For now, family members are still left with unanswered questions and disappointment.
"I'm not mad, but more disappointed in the system and in the training," Frank Middleton said, adding that his own son is a member of the Pensacola Police Department. "They need training."
However, she said she is thankful. The outcome of that morning could have been much worse for the married father of two.
"He could've been killed. The Lord shielded him," she said.