By Paola Iuspa-Abbott
ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — A West Palm Beach police officer fatally shot a 23-year-old Royal Palm Beach man Saturday night after he attacked the officer with a garden ornament, police said.
The unidentified officer rushed to Briar Bay, a gated community east of Jog Road and north of Okeechobee Boulevard, about 10:30 p.m. in response to neighbors' complaints that Vernon Jones was trying to open windows and doors to enter homes, West Palm Beach Lt. Charles Reed said.
Jones may have been trying to get food or find a place to sleep, he said.
When the officer approached Jones in a front yard, Jones grabbed a garden statue and hit the officer in the head, Reed said. Witnesses told police that the two fought for as long as 10 minutes until the officer freed himself and tried to restrain Jones with pepper spray, Reed said.
But Jones kept coming at the officer, Reed said. Fearing for his life, the officer drew his gun and fired three times. With at least one wound to his upper body, Jones died at the scene.
"If he did not fire his gun, this would have ended with the officer dead," Reed said.
The officer did not carry a Taser stun gun, he said.
Before the incident, Jones called his girlfriend and told her he wanted to die, Reed said.
Jones had numerous run-ins with police in the past 2 1/2 years for carjacking, battery, fraud and other charges, state records show.
An autopsy was performed Sunday morning on the cause of Jones' death, but the results were not immediately released.
The officer, a five-year veteran of the West Palm Beach Police Department, was taken to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach with cuts to his head and face. He was released Sunday morning. Police won't release his name until he speaks with his family, Reed said.
As a standard procedure, the officer was placed on paid administrative leave while police and the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office investigate the shooting.
Staff Writer Leon Fooksman contributed to this report.
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Fla. officer shoots man dead in skirmish