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Grand Jury: Robert Dentmond Shooting Lawful, But Avoidable

Robert Dentmond's yearbook photo from Buchholz High School.
Robert Dentmond's yearbook photo from Buchholz High School.

The Alachua County Grand Jury released its report on the March officer-involved shooting of Gainesville teen Robert Dentmond today.

The grand jury's report stated that the shooting death of Dentmond was lawful, but likely "avoidable." Concerns related to the number of officers and deputies involved, the number of shots (30-plus) fired at Dentmond and the number of shots that missed, which instead struck vehicles and occupied apartments, were all listed in the report.
Dentmond GJ by wuftnews on Scribd

Sixteen-year-old Dentmond, a student at Gainesville High School, was killed on March 20 by Gainesville Police Department officers and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office deputies after refusing to put down a replica assault rifle. At the time, it was not known the gun was not real.

Before the shooting, Dentmond exchanged messages with his girlfriend. The messages, according to a June 2 joint press release from the sheriff's office and police department, support the idea that Dentmond was intent on committing suicide by cop. Dentmond wrote in the message to his girlfriend, “Maybe I’ll be underground by tomorrow…don’t believe me, I’ll show you.”

In another — the final message he sent — he wrote, “I’m finna have the police shoot me…I just called them and told them I have a gun.”

Recommendations from the grand jury included the following:

  • Greater consideration for a large showing of force, as was seen in Dentmond's shooting, based on the "individual circumstances." The report says that such exhibits of force should not be automatic.
  • Encouragement to "study the feasibility of establishing a clear chain of command" in the event that the shooting of a citizen is deemed necessary.
  • Call for the state legislature to consider banning the replica guns like the one Dentmond had.
  • Increased training in interacting with the mentally ill.
  • Increased funding at the state and local level to "enhance existing mental health intervention programs."

In the report, the grand jury, noting that it has neither the power to create policy nor direct resources, called on the city and county commissions, as well as members of the Florida legislature representing the area, to "find the means to be proactive rather than reactive such as that involving Robert Dentmond."

The report continues, "It is unrealistic to ask the law enforcement community to solve the difficult issues they face in dealing with mental illness without giving them the resources to do so. It is also unrealistic to expect a different result in the future from the same approaches that have been tried in the past."

The sheriff's office and police department both released statements following the release of the grand jury's report.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell wrote the recommendations from the grand jury "were made in ideal conditions and with the benefit of information gathered after the incident," though she largely agreed that more resources should be put toward mental health issues.

GPD spokesman Ben Tobias wrote, "The Gainesville Police Department stands behinds these officers. While the outcome was tragic, these officers were in a situation that few would want to be, and were forced to make a decision based on the totality of the circumstances presented to them at the time."

Personnel files for the nine Alachua County sheriff’s deputies and Gainesville police officers — five deputies and four officers — who shot at Dentmond were obtained by WUFT.

Shots from the deputies and officers entered two Majestic Oaks Apartments units. Over three months after the shooting, one apartment still had bullet holes in its walls after the sheriff’s office had spent thousands of dollars replacing property and repairing damage from the shooting.

TJ Pyche is a reporter for WUFT News. He can be reached at tpyche@ufl.edu or 352-392-6397 or 352-392-NEWS. Follow him at @tjpyche.