Two fatal shootings in two weeks bring questions for Palm Beach Sheriff's Office

Tinoris Williams, 31, latest with mental illness to get tragic ending

In a previous encounter with police, the first thing Tinoris Williams told a responding Palm Beach Sheriff's deputy was that he was "a Martian of the United States," acting on full authority of the constitution. He had just thrown three bricks through the windows of his mother's apartment. The first thing Vickie Williams told the deputy, according to the December 2012 arrest report: "That her son Tinoris needs help."

Williams was taken to jail, charged with multiple felonies and eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Tinoris Williams had another encounter with the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office last week. This time, he didn't survive.

This time, a deputy found Williams in an apartment that his family said he lived in. The deputy was looking for a burglary suspect who apparently matched Williams' description. The Sheriff's Office says Williams scuffled with the deputy and reached for the deputy's gun and Taser. The deputy, Ernest Cantu, shot Williams in the head, apparently killing him instantly.


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Williams was 31.

It was the second straight week that the Sheriff's Office shot and killed a mentally ill man. On April 2, Deputy Evan Rosenthal shot Matthew Pollow, 28, outside his mother's apartment in West Boca. The Sheriff's Office says Pollow charged at deputies with a screwdriver.

Hours after Williams' shooting, with his stunned mother looking on, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw spoke to reporters and called Tinoris Williams "the bad guy," "a violent felon," and "a very dangerous individual." He held up Williams' rap sheet and was quick to point out some 30 arrests, including battery on a police officer and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Here's what Bradshaw didn't say: That most cases ended with the charges dropped or thrown out because of Williams' condition. Williams' pattern was more of a mentally ill "frequent flyer" — someone who goes through a revolving door of crisis, arrests, jailings and treatment — than hardened criminal. He never went to state prison. The 2010 battery on a LEO charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor and ultimately dropped. The deadly weapon in the aggravated assault? The bricks he launched through his mother's window.

A friend of the Williams family, Priscilla Bauldie, told me Tinoris was once a bright, motivated student who went to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. But then he got sick, and he struggled to hold himself together. She said he went for treatment in the past year, and was being monitored by a judge. He was supposed to be at the courthouse for a status check on Friday. "He had problems, but they're making him out to be a murderer," Timothy Williams, Tinoris' father, told WPBF-TV.

I'm not here to say these two fatal shootings were unjustified. Police are given great latitude in their dangerous jobs, and basically the standard is if cops perceive an imminent threat, they are allowed to use deadly force.

But I am raising questions about the overall pattern, and whether the Sheriff's Office is examining itself to try to prevent such terrible outcomes. Lately, the M.O. at PBSO seems to be: Shoot first, answer questions later.

In Pollow's case, relatives said Matthew was in crisis and called 911 for help. He got bullets instead of treatment. I still haven't gotten an answer to whether the deputies who responded had specialized Crisis Intervention Team training. Citing the ongoing investigation, the Sheriff's Office declined further comment.

In Williams' case, his family said he was usually docile and compliant with police, and they wondered if the Sheriff's Office version of events was accurate. Bauldie said relatives found blood all over the apartment and a bullet hole in the ceiling.

The other thing that disturbs these families? The propensity of Bradshaw's office to quickly form conclusions while denigrating the shooting victims and treating relatives with utter insensitivity.

Both families say they have been left in the dark about processes and procedures, that there is no liaison to explain when they might get details — or even their loved ones' bodies back. Both families have expressed doubts about whether the agency can be trusted to investigate its own.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told me his office has experienced investigators who review police-involved shootings independently of detectives. He said two police shootings have been cleared by grand juries in the past two years.

When was the last time a cop stood trial for a bad shoot? In Palm Beach County, Aronberg said it was 1993. The officer was acquitted. Aronberg said another officer facing charges in 2008 committed suicide. In Broward, the last time an officer went to trial for a bad shoot was 1980, and that officer also was acquitted. A grand jury declined to indict a Broward Sheriff's deputy who shot an unarmed Mexican laborer in 2004. That man, German Gomez, suffered permanent brain damage and got a settlement from BSO, which fired the deputy.

Juries usually show great deference to police who shoot in the line of duty. After these latest tragedies, is it asking too much for police to show a little deference to the families of the troubled souls they killed?

mmayo@tribune.com; 954-356-4508.

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