A veteran Florida sheriff’s deputy and a suspect have died after a shooting and subsequent standoff at a motel after a procedural step in a domestic violence investigation went awry, police said.
Deputy Bill Myers went to meet 33-year-old suspect Joel Dixon Smith around 8:20 p.m. near the Cotton & Gates law firm in the panhandle town, Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said at an afternoon news conference. The suspect was meant to turn over his guns as part of a domestic violence injunction, but instead Smith opened fire on the 64-year-old lawman, authorities said.
Myers was shot “multiple times in the back, including a gunshot wound to the rear of his head,” officials said.
“He was a sick little coward,” an emotional Ashley told reporters as he held back tears.
Smith fled the scene to a nearby Comfort Suites motel in Niceville where he’d been staying. During a subsequent standoff, Smith was killed in an exchange of gunfire with authorities, the sheriff said.
Myers spent 24 years with the law enforcement agency before retiring in 2013. He was back with the department, helping with civil process cases, the agency said in a statement.
“Deputy Myers has been a treasured part of this agency’s family since 1989,” Sheriff Ashley said. “He served this community with distinction for decades. He was loved, admired, and respected for his dedication to the law enforcement profession. He loved photography and he had an ability to make those around him smile, especially his young granddaughter who he adored and took to Disney World as often as he could. We pray for his soul and for his family and we ask that the community pray for them as well, and for all the men and women who have the courage in these troubled times to put their lives on the line for others.”
Witnesses to the carnage said they couldn’t believe what had happened. David Wray, an owner of a nearby awning business, said he and an employee originally heard gunshots and thought there was a robbery at a Dollar Store. Wray saw the man later identified as Smith get in his truck and take off.
“I thought I’d chase him, but there was a lot of traffic,” Wray said. “I’m not James Bond. I don’t want to get anybody hurt, so I went back.”
Wray and another witness tried to console the mortally wounded deputy.
“It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen,” Wray said. “I cradled his head for a while. He was bleeding profusely.”
A receptionist at the law firm declined comment to the Daily News.
With News Wire Services