Prosecutor: Bradenton Beach officer justified in shooting

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Bradenton Beach Police Officer Eric Hill is doubly honored.

Official word from the state is Hill was justified in the use of deadly force in the Dec. 30, 2017, officer-involved shooting in Anna Maria.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Heather Doyle sent the decision in a May 1 letter to BBPD Chief Sam Speciale, saying she’d made a “thorough and complete review” of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.

The letter came about a week after the department decided on Hill as its nominee for Officer of the Year, an annual Manatee County 100 Club award, for his courageous and professional response to the incident.

Hill shot Douglas Schofield, 45, of Palmetto, once in the torso after Schofield threatened Hill and other officers with a military-style knife and survivalist hatchet in a parking lot at Gulf Drive and Pine Avenue. Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputy Amy Leach simultaneously shot Schofield with a stun gun.

“I knew there was not a lot to worry about,” Hill said May 3, but that he was relieved the investigation was no longer “over my head.”

The shooting occurred at 8:08 p.m. but earlier in the day Schofield’s family alerted law enforcement the Palmetto man was headed to the island to kill himself.

Hill and MCSO deputies Leach and Tim Eason approached Schofield after finding his vehicle at 10101 Gulf Drive. Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer and HBPD Officer Christine LaBranche also arrived at the scene.

Hill said he shined his flashlight at a car Eason identified as Schofield’s, ordered Schofield to show his hands and he chose to exit his car. Schofield then moved toward the officers with the weapons, yelling “which one of you (expletive) want to die,” according to a Bradenton Beach police report.

“It was Officer Hill’s professionalism during an extremely stressful situation,” Speciale said May 1 about Hill’s selection for the award nomination. Hill and others were afraid for their lives, he added.

People and vehicles out and about near Bortell’s Lounge and the intersection the New Year’s Eve weekend night, some watching the incident unfold.

“His professional and training possibly saved the lives of innocent people in the area,” Speciale said.

The FDLE investigation, including 339 pages and a video taken from a MCSO helicopter, concluded the officers’ statements were consistent with the evidence and there was no wrongdoing on Hill’s part. Similar preliminary reports were released from FDLE investigators in January.

Schofield, who was taken to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton after the shooting, has recovered, according to police.

MCSO has asked the 12th Circuit State Attorney’s Office to charge Schofield with three counts of aggravated assault.

However, no charging decision had been made as of May 3, according to Payton Thompson, the assistant state attorney handling the case.

Police say Schofield, a former marine with 24 years of service, may have been trying to entice an officer to kill him.

Hill is sympathetic to Schofield’s troubles.

“Honestly this is the last thing I wanted to do, but I really wanted to make sure nobody around got hurt,” he said, adding he positioned himself so no bullet could strike anyone else.

It’s the third time Hill has been nominated for the annual award from the Manatee 100 Club, a group supporting local law enforcement and their families.

“It’s humbling because I was just doing my job,” Hill said. “It’s nice to be recognized, but I’ve never been one to say ‘look at me.’”

Each year participating agencies nominate an officer from their departments. Other island nominations include Holmes Beach Police Officer Joel Pierce for his outstanding police work, including arrests involving a burglary in progress and a fleeing felon.

The winner will be announced May 17 at a dinner event at the Courtyard Marriott in Bradenton.

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