Widower Sues Cops Over Wife’s Death

     (CN) — Four years after his wife was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies responding to a domestic dispute, Richard Sheldon of St. Augustine, Fla., claims in court that her death was completely unwarranted.
     In a complaint filed in Jacksonville Federal Court, Shelton claims his wife was an unlikely candidate for being shot to death by police. Andrea Sheldon was a former hospice nurse who built water purification systems for the poor in Haiti and spent much of her free time in her garden.
     Sheldon himself is a paramedic for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.
     But a months-long investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing in Andrea Sheldon’s death.
     The officers who fired their weapons were “justified in the use of deadly force,” according to a letter from Assistant State Attorney David R. Smith.
     In his April 13 complaint, Sheldon says this just isn’t so.
     The complaint and incident report agree that on the night of April 14, 2012, the couple had a fight.
     Sheldon left the house — a secluded mobile home — and set up a campsite some miles away. Sheldon had his cellphone, though, and made several distressed phone calls. A local fire chief who spoke with Sheldon called the sheriff’s department and reported that Sheldon was possibly suicidal and located in the woods, and that his wife was in their home and possibly in possession of a firearm, the complaint states.
     That’s when officers Thomas Cameron Coward, Scott Stokes, Glenn Lappe, Jeremy Huddleston, Michael Williams, and Tony Matuse were dispatched to the scene, and according to the complaint, four of the men approached the house with their automatic rifles and shotguns drawn.
     “St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office sent an unreasonable number of armed personnel to the Sheldon’s residence under the circumstances, without attempting to adequately assess the situation,” the complaint states.
     The deputies spread out and covered the front door from different angles, according to the complaint, and then they called Sheldon. Andrea Sheldon then came to the door in only her underwear, and accounts of what happened next diverge dramatically.
     According to a lengthy report from the FDLE that was obtained by The Florida Times-Union, Andrea Sheldon had a shotgun in her hands. The deputies said they yelled at her to drop the gun, the report stated, but instead she aimed it at them and “leaned forward as if she was about to shoot.”
     All the deputies fired, hitting her eight times according to the complaint, six times according to the FDLE’s report. The deputies performed first-aid, but Andrea Sheldon succumbed to her injuries.
     According to the Florida Times-Union, the FDLE investigation included interviews with all of the deputies, rescue personnel and Sheldon himself, who apparently told the FDLE that his wife “consumed a great quantity of alcohol on the evening in question because she knew the next day was the last day of her vacation.”
     But in his complaint, Sheldon says he was never interviewed by the FDLE.
     Sheldon also says that during the incident, the deputies never announced their presence or gave any instructions.
     During the phone call — which was recorded, the complaint says — gunfire can be heard, and then Deputy Huddleston saying, “Oh shit!” according to the complaint. Sheldon can then be heard asking why shots were being fired. Then Huddleston hangs up without telling Sheldon his wife had been shot, the complaint says.
     Although Sheldon acknowledges that a shotgun was seized from his home, he argues in the complaint that it had no chambered rounds and there was no physical evidence that his wife possessed it when she was killed.
     Sheldon claims that the deputies “unreasonably created a situation where excessive force was used.” He also points to the Sheriff’s Department and St. Johns County for its “policy and/or custom to inadequately investigate police misconduct, including the use of excessive force of its law enforcement officers.”
     Sheldon seeks damages on claims of excessive force, municipal liability for constitutional violations, unreasonable seizure, battery, infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligence in hiring, retention and/or supervision, and loss of consortium.
     He is represented by Gonzalo Andux and Ann Finnell of Finnell, McGuiness, Nezami & Andux, P.A. in Jacksonville, Fla.
     A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department said they could not comment on pending litigation.

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