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A surge in cops shooting



It was the year of living dangerously in Orange County, with the dawn of a new millennium baptized in the same gunplay characteristic of the past violent century.

The year began with the wounding of two police officers during routine traffic stops, and the first funeral procession held for an Orlando cop killed by a bullet since 1968. Officer George DeSalvia, a 29-year-old rookie, died after being shot with a .40-caliber Glock handgun by a man who was apparently desperate to hide his involvement in a pawn-shop robbery.

But by the end of the year, many people were concerned that police were the ones who had become trigger-happy. Orange County deputies shot nine people in 2000. Orlando police shot four.

Not all the shootings were easy to categorize. Traevis Bradley was a 19-year-old crack dealer who tried to run from an alleged drug bust in early June. Bradley rammed several parked cars near an East Colonial Drive pizza shop, then made an attempt to escape on foot. When an Orange County deputy ordered Bradley to stop, the suspect turned around, which was seen as a gesture to fight. The deputy didn't use a night stick or a blast of pepper spray to subdue Bradley, but rather shot him dead, raising questions over the use of deadly force.

The most difficult civilian death to understand was the July shooting of Andrea Hall, a 40-year-old mother of four who was just finding her roots in Orlando when Jamie Dean Petron took her and four relatives hostage in their south Orange County home.

Petron, on the run for killing a Broward County convenience-store clerk and wounding a police officer, kept the family captive for three days. The siege ended after a police sniper mistook Hall for Petron and shot her as she went to the garage to retrieve doughnuts and juice that police had left for them. Petron killed himself soon afterward.

A recently released report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement exonerated the sniper, OPD officer Christopher Savard -- one of a handful of Orlando cops relieving Orange County officers on the morning Hall was killed. But the report also noted a number of discrepancies: Orlando officers blamed the Sheriff's Office, which had jurisdiction over the hostage standoff, for not telling OPD snipers that Hall was light-skinned or that she, not Petron, would be retrieving breakfast. Orange County officers countered, saying they did brief the police and that Orlando cops were aware of the hostage scene since they were present throughout the morning of Hall's death.

Savard said Hall had a towel over her head, obscuring her identification. But Althea Mills, Hall's niece, says there was no towel next to Hall's body, according to the report.

Orlando Police Chief Jerry Demings said his department won't change any of its policies in the report's aftermath.

But that position is unfortunate. While it's obvious Savard made a mistake, he made one because he couldn't clearly identify his target. Rule No. 1 should be that cops don't fire until they know exactly what they'll hit.

Hall's case is headed for a place Americans are familiar with -- the courtroom. The Hall family has hired Johnnie Cochran to find out exactly what drove Savard to pull the trigger. And why law enforcement officials are so quick to defend bad police practices.

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