Melbourne officer fatally shot himself
|By Jennifer Ellis and R. Norman Moody|
MELBOURNE, Fla. - Police say a 14-year veteran police officer accused of attacking a man who was at the Melbourne police station in April on traffic charges, fatally shot himself Saturday morning as officers from his own department tried to arrest him.
Surrounded by Melbourne officers in their police vehicles, Larry Simpson, 47, shot himself in the chest at 11:44 a.m. while sitting behind the wheel of his personal car at Avocado Avenue and Lake Washington Road, Melbourne Police Chief Keith Chandler said.
"This is the worst day of my personal life," Chandler said during an emotional news conference three hours after the shooting.
Simpson, a patrolman with the department's south precinct, is credited with helping to reduce crime in a neighborhood where he grew up. Crime in the south Melbourne area dropped 70 percent since 1987.
Wanted on an outstanding warrant for battery and official misconduct, for which the maximum sentence allowed under Florida law is five years, Simpson missed several deadlines for turning himself in, including one at 1 p.m. Thursday and another at 6 p.m. Friday, Brevard Sheriff Phil Williams said.
When Simpson didn't turn himself in early Saturday, Chandler personally called Williams and asked that the Sheriff's warrant team be called in to take Simpson into custody. In Brevard County, the Sheriff's Office serves all outstanding warrants.
"We don't like to have to arrest police officers," Williams said. "He just wasn't coming in. In that sense, since he broke his word, we (were asked to) go in and pick him up. Things just didn't seem to be going smoothly."
Before the six-member warrant's team arrived, Melbourne police officers spotted Simpson and surrounded his car with their vehicles. Sheriff's Lt. Ted Knowles also had arrived on scene, and the warrants team, Williams and Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bob Sarver were en route to the intersection when the Melbourne officers moved in on Simpson.
"They told him to get out of the car, step out of the car," Bell said. Simpson did not comply and shot himself with his own weapon. Police do not know whether it was his service weapon. Melbourne officers buy their own service weapons, Bell said.
Simpson was pronounced dead at Holmes Regional Medical Center.
Simpson's troubles for which he was to be arrested Saturday started after the April 9 incident at the Melbourne Police Department. Police declined to name the man who Simpson was accused of attacking.
The incident sparked an internal police investigation into Simpson's professional conduct and he was suspended with pay starting April 17, Bell said. The investigation concluded last week when a state prosecutor decided to file charges. Judge John Griesbaum issued the arrest warrant to the Sheriff's office June 14. Officials refuse to elaborate on the investigation, which Chandler said has been turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because of Simpson's death. The department said it will release Simpson's personnel file Monday morning.
The state attorney's office had been working with Simpson's attorney Phil Lupo to arrange for Simpson to surrender himself at the Brevard County Detention Center and bond out after booking, Williams said. Bond was set at $2,000.
"Officer Simpson did not keep several appointments that had been made for his surrender, and we worked through his friends and co-workers to contact him when he would not respond to our calls," Chandler said.
Surrounded by members of his senior support staff, Chandler held a news conference on the steps of the Melbourne Police Apollo Road station. Answering only a few brief questions, a shaken Chandler said Simpson, "had a lot of good things on his record.
"There were some bumps, Larry did some good things and Larry made some mistakes."
Chandler would not elaborate about any other internal affairs investigation during Simpson's tenure with the department.
Simpson's car has been taken to the Sheriff's compound in Sharpes where it awaits processing by crime technicians, Williams said.
Officers and dispatchers were shocked, but coping with the tragedy.
"We'll deal with this and then move on as an organization." Chandler said.
A law enforcement crisis team has been called to help officers and family members cope with Simpson's death, Bell said.
"It's always a day of tragedy when you lose a member of your 'family' " Bell said. "That's what he was, a member of the Melbourne Police Department family."
Police officers and friends said they had no idea Simpson would react the way he did.
"I don't think there were things that heavy in his life ," said the Rev. Carol Glanton, who knew Simpson growing up in the south Melbourne neighborhood, where she has lived for decades.
Courtesy of Florida Today