In a little more than two weeks and fewer than 460 miles from the city where Trayvon Martin was killed and George Zimmerman acquitted, the state of Florida is once again the center of a shooting incident that could have been almost as tragic as one that has shook the nation.
On Sunday morning, two Escambia County sheriff deputies opened fire on Roy Middleton, 60, an unarmed black man in his driveway. The deputies, Jeremiah Meeks and Matthew White, unleashed a barrage of at least seventeen bullets, one of them ripping through Middleton’s leg.
According to reports from the Pensacola News Journal, the deputies had been summoned to the scene around 2:40 am by a neighbor who called 911 suspecting a robbery was in progress.
When the deputies approached Middleton, who said he had gone to the car to get some cigarettes for his mother, Ceola Walker, 77, he was asked to show his hands where they could see them, said Sheriff David Morgan.
Upon hearing the voices, Middleton thought it was a neighbor playing a practical joke. But when he got out of the car the bullets started flying all over the place, he said.
“It was like a firing squad; bullets were flying everywhere,” Middleton told the local paper, speaking from his hospital bed where he is in stable condition but the shattered bones in his left thigh will require a metal rod.
Middleton’s mother said her son was coming home when she heard the shooting. “I don’t understand why they had to use so much force under the situation,” Walker told reporters. “He wasn’t resisting or anything and he was at his own house.”
If the deputies believed the car was stolen they could have easily checked the license plates, and even if it was being stolen there was no reason to shoot, a Middleton relative related.
A picture in the Pensacola paper shows Walker standing by her Lincoln Town Car, pointing to the rounds of bullets that punctured several parts of the car.
The shooting is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and already the sheriff has put his spin on the story, indicating that his deputies, both of whom have been put on paid administrative leave, feared for their safety when Middleton refused to cooperate and “made a lunging motion,” at them. Moreover, Sheriff Morgan told reporters Middleton “had a metallic object in his hand.” That object turned out to be a flashlight attached to the victim’s key chain.
The excessive firing on Middleton was “officer anxiety,” Sheriff Morgan explained.
“He’ my son,” Walker said, “and for that to happen was just devastating. We know it wasn’t anyone but God that saved him.”
Yes, it was fortunate that Middleton’s life was spared but it doesn’t relieve the fact that this could have been yet another devastating loss.