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'Handled it right'

March 17, 2002

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'Handled it right'

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"Police officers are human beings and everyone has their own frailties," said Reynolds, who alerted the sheriff's SWAT team to be ready to step in if the officer's behavior had gotten worse before he was taken into custody or if he didn't cooperate.

"He wasn't talking the same way anymore and I saw no need for an immediate move. The questions that night were, 'Do we force a confrontation, and what are the benefits to doing that as opposed to waiting?' "

The sheriff's SWAT team was on standby, Sarver said.

"The overall goal is to ensure whatever assistance somebody needs they get and get safely," said Sarver, who stressed the importance of talking things out. "Communication is the best tool any law enforcement officer has in any situation."

The Melbourne department has considered using a SWAT team to bring in an officer only twice before, once during the late 1980s and most recently with Officer Larry Simpson last year.

In the latter incident, Chandler decided to have his officers arrest Simpson rather than wait for the sheriff's SWAT team. Simpson, facing several misconduct charges, fatally shot himself during the brief standoff last June.

In the incident involving the SWAT team member -- who was at the Simpson shooting -- he met with another officer at his own home. There, the reinstated officer disclosed his feelings about the breakup with his live-in girlfriend.

He then talked about killing himself, police reports show. He grabbed a 9mm handgun and stepped out of his house. He told the other officer not to even think about reaching for his stun gun. That officer hugged the SWAT team member.

The SWAT team member told the officer to keep their conversation confidential because he was "not going to go anywhere" and that he would "waste the first (person) to come to the door," police reports show.

The officer then left the SWAT team member alone with his children. The officer immediately informed Reynolds of what happened. Chandler was in St. Augustine attending a police chief's conference.

Despite the tone of the threats made by the SWAT team member, Chandler and Reynolds said the officer appeared to be a threat to himself only.

"There was a police officer there who was trained," said Reynolds, noting the SWAT team member's comments dramatically deescalated later in the evening. "He obviously handled the situation right -- nothing happened."

No charges were filed in the incident. The officer was allowed to turn in his badge and gun the following morning. That was just before he was led out of the agency in handcuffs to a treatment facility, Reynolds said.

"Now we're confident he's resolved his problems," Reynolds said. "It was an ugly situation no matter how you look at it. It was probably the most difficult night of my law enforcement career."

Once a mental or physical illness is treated, an officer is only allowed to return to his duties if medical officials approve, Reynolds said.

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