In how many cases does a cop have to shoot an innocent person before he is held responsible for his actions? It’s a relevant question and though the answer depends on which department the cop works for, in Pinellas County, the answer is likely more than twice.
Florida Highway Patrol veteran Daniel Cole has been cleared of wrongdoing (again) in a shooting that injured a man. The victim this time, Clifford F. Work, was shot in the leg by Cole late one rainy night in a cemetery. The setting was certainly eerie and may have had an effect on Cole’s jumpy trigger finger.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Cole was working when he caught the ping of a Lojack tracking device on a stolen motorcycle coming from a Pinellas Park cemetery. So, he went to investigate. He found a shed in the cemetery. Music was coming from it and the lights were on inside.
Inside the shed Clifford Work, the owner of the cemetery and several others like it, was asleep. This wasn’t uncommon for him as he reportedly liked to get work done at the “wee hours” and would occasionally nap on the job. The radio played to drown out the rain and the light was one because “there are some strange things that happen in a cemetery late at night.”
Cole was scared. He called for backup. When two officers arrived, the three approached the shed. Cole knocked several times, holding his rifle all the while. It took several knocks before Work woke up. He was disoriented but knew it was too early for his employees to be arriving. He thought he was going to be robbed, so he grabbed his Glock 30 handgun.
When Work went to answer the door, Cole saw the weapon and shot. Not once. Not until he saw Work back down. But he shot 15 times as he retreated. “I’m trying to run backwards in a sense while firing,” said Cole to investigators.
Not once did Cole announce who he was. He didn’t order Work to drop the weapon before firing. He merely saw the glint of the gun and went to town. Work was shot in the leg.
Fortunately for Cole, he was cleared of wrongdoing. Just like he was in the case where he shot a minister in the hand during a traffic stop. According to Cole, the man reached for something. According to the minister, he was reaching for his wallet. That was 2001. Just last year, Cole was cleared again for using a Taser against a handcuffed woman. She fell and hit her head after the jolt—sending her into a coma and leaving her with “debilitating brain damage.”
While officers like this one are usually the exception and not the rule, dangerous encounters with police are not uncommon. The best thing you can do when being confronted by law enforcement, is to comply with their directives and let the courts sort it out afterwards. The stakes are too high to do anything different.