Grand Jury finds police response at Tom Brown Park “heroic”

“They had no idea that they were being stalked by anarchists,” the jury statement said
Grand Jury finds use of force lawful in Tom Brown Park shooting
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 8:16 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 19, 2023 at 9:20 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A grand jury determined law enforcement’s use of force in a fatal shooting earlier this year was justified, calling their response, “heroic.”

Late one night in May, officials from the Tallahassee Police Department and Leon County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call at Tom Brown Park. The officers and deputy exchanged gunfire with capital city resident Asia Fitzgerald, 25, after she began shooting at them in what was described as a “premeditated ambush.” Fitzgerald died from her injuries.

Investigators estimated 140 shots rang out that evening. The State Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday afternoon that a grand jury determined law enforcement’s use of deadly force was lawful and justifiable.

“All local law enforcement has a general order concerning active shooters like this,” a statement from the jury said. “They must respond and stop the threat, even if it costs them their lives. Each of the officers and deputies on scene ran into the gunfire and stopped this active shooter.”

The night of the shooting

In a six-page “No True Bill Presentment” on the decision, the jury recounted the facts of the fatal shooting, condemned Fitzgerald’s acts and praised law enforcement.

“Her decisions should serve as a reminder of the danger law enforcement faces daily,” the jury statement said of Fitzgerald’s behavior. “Law enforcement was doing the work we ask of them.”

Jurors listened to testimony from Captain John Delgado, an expert on law enforcement’s use of force training and protocols, and the investigator of the shooting incident, Investigator Kelli Isaacs. They watched body camera footage, heard from law enforcement witnesses and examined a weapon involved.

It all began May 25 and spanned into early the next morning.

Law enforcement responded to Tom Brown Park that night after an anonymous caller spotted a man there matching the description of Durrell Lee, a suspect they were looking for after Lee eluded capture earlier that day. Once on the scene, they located Lee and saw Fitzgerald and a friend of hers nearby. Investigators later determined Lee’s proximity to Fitzgerald and her friend was coincidental, according to the jury report.

As officers prepared to move in and arrest Lee, Fitzgerald walked away, according to the report. Officers arrested Lee and also detained Fitzgerald’s friend without incident, and stood gathered in the dark.

“Talking together, debriefing, and drinking cold drinks on a hot night, they had no idea that they were being stalked by anarchists,” the statement said.

Hundreds of feet across the park, the scene escalated.

An officer walking to his vehicle encountered Fitzgerald on the sidewalk.

“When Fitzgerald was first seen, she was unarmed until she slipped into the darkness,” the document said. “Minutes later, she held over 80 rounds of 5.56 caliber rifle ammunition and an AR,.15 style rifle.”

He ordered her to drop the weapon. Instead, Fitzgerald raised the gun, pointed at him and fired.

He sought shelter behind a tree and returned fire. Other law enforcement officials rushed to the scene and also discharged their weapons, totaling 102 pistol shots, according to the jury document. Fitzgerald was shot 25 times.

“In all, Fitzgerald shot 32 times in her ambush of these unsuspecting officers. She was concealed in darkness and armed with a 5.56 caliber assault weapon at a range ofless than 30 yards,” the jury statement said. “She was tactically proficient and nearly hit multiple officers. One officer was literally grazed.”

After she collapsed from her injuries and ceased shooting, officers approached her and attempted to render aid, which the jury described as an act of “incredible humanity.” Fitzgerald was transported to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for treatment but later died from her injuries. No one from law enforcement was injured in the exchange.

Jurors commended that officer who first encountered Fitzgerald and all others who responded.

“[The officer] owes his life to a small oak tree and his fellow officers coming to his aid,” the jury statement said. “Moreover, he heroically challenged her, armed with only a pistol. At less than 30 yards, she fired 32 rounds into the tree he hid behind and towards the other deputies and officers who came to his rescue.”

The Tallahassee Police Department later shared body camera footage from the evening in a YouTube video with narration. That video is below.

The following footage contains graphic material and viewer discretion is advised.

Details emerge after the shooting

Just days after the shooting, Lee was charged with a slew of weapons and drug offenses. He pleaded not guilty.

Documents pertaining to those charges revealed details of Lee’s compelling initial escape of law enforcement on May 25, in which he was pulled over and then allegedly sped away from the traffic stop, drove the wrong way down Apalachee Parkway and ditched his vehicle. He fled on foot and eluded authorities until his capture hours later at Tom Brown Park.

Court records examined after the shooting revealed that Lee had been released from prison early due to a medical condition that disabled him. In the statement Tuesday, the jury said Lee “had abused his medical release to allow him to again sell drugs.”

Months after his arrest, Lee was indicted on federal drug trafficking and conspiracy charges, too.

Details on Fitzgerald’s background also emerged after the shooting.

TPD disclosed Fitzgerald was homeless and lived in a van with her friend who was was detained at the time of the shooting. He was released and is not facing any charges. That van was found at Tom Brown Park the day after the shooting, and the jury statement said Lee’s arrest happened near where the pair were residing by chance.

“Durrell Lee’s flight to where they were living was pure coincidence,” the statement said.

Jury conclusions

While Lee’s location was coincidental, the shooting was not, according to the jury statement.

The jury said TPD received intelligence indicating Fitzgerald and her friend intended to die by “suicide by cop,” which the document explains is purposefully acting in a “threatening manner” to “provoke a lethal response” from law enforcement.

The jury document also said, “Fitzgerald’s internet history showed she visited pages relating to anarchy and guerrilla warfare” in the month of the ambush, and a search of her van uncovered photos of her posing with the same type of firearm she used to attack officers on May 25.

“Armed to the teeth and living in a van, these persons had been waiting for an opportunity to employ guerrilla tactics against law enforcement officers. Their intent was to die by law enforcement after provoking just such a gunfight. At a moment’s notice, Fitzgerald followed through with her plan. This was an ambush and the officer’s survival is miraculous,” the jury statement said.

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