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Use of force justified in officer-involved shooting

By Staff | Jun 22, 2017

Cape Coral police have opened an internal investigation into four officers involved in a fatal shooting following the State Attorney’s Office announcement this week that their actions were “justifiable.”

On Wednesday, State Attorney Stephen Russell reported that his office would not be filing criminal charges against Officers John DiGiovanni, Christopher Gugliotta, Andrew Miller and Robert Reese in the officer-involved shooting of Christopher Michael Moran, 31, which took place on June 5, 2016.

“Based on the investigative reports provided, and the applicable law, I am convinced that the actions of the officers involved in this incident were a legally justifiable use of deadly force in the defense of themselves or others,” he wrote.

Following the release of the state’s completed investigation, the CCPD responded in suit.

“Today, the Cape Coral Police Department was notified that the officers involved in the June 5, 2016, shooting of Christopher Moran have been cleared,” Lt. Dana S. Coston said via a statement. “The matter is now being reviewed administratively by the Professional Standards Bureau of the (CCPD).”

On Thursday, Coston explained that an internal investigation is standard procedure following any officer-involved shooting. He noted that “it’s case by case” in the time is takes to complete one.

“There is a maximum of 180 days allowed by law,” he said.

Based on my experience as an IA (Internal Affairs) investigator, and given that the bulk of the ‘heavy lifting’ has been done already, I suspect it will be a few weeks before it is concluded,” Coston added.

He noted that Police Chief Dave Newlan is satisfied with the state’s finding.

“He is happy that this portion of the investigation is concluded,” Coston said. “Now that (the) Professional Standards Bureau is reviewing it, he hopes to have the officers back to full-duty soon.”

All four officers remain on administrative duty, where they were placed following the shooting.

At the time, Coston reported that the move is also standard procedure in such instances.

At 5:44 p.m. June 5, Cape Coral police responded to a shooting in the 2600 block of Skyline Boulevard. Officers arrived on scene to find that Moran had fatally shot a motorcyclist, Jeremy Charles Taylor, 54, of 3720 S.W. 11th Place. According to a police report, Moran had used a shotgun.

At 6:28 p.m., police responded to another shooting at the Circle K, at 1603 W. Cape Coral Parkway. Arriving officers discovered that Moran had fatally shot a second person, Sean Strickland, 26, also of Cape Coral. Strickland was an employee of the store and a shotgun was again used, the report states.

A store customer, Richard Huwiler, 62, of the Cape, sustained gunshot wounds but survived.

Four minutes later, police located Moran at Skyline and Cape Coral Parkway, stopping his vehicle in the 5100 block of Skyline. Officials reported that Moran was “still armed and violently resisting.”

He was shot by police and pronounced dead at the scene; none of the officers were injured.

Two passengers in Moran’s vehicle – Maria Abigail Rodriguez, 33, and Christopher Moran Jr., now 2, both of 901 S.E. Eighth Terrace, Apt. 6 – each sustained injuries and were transported to a local hospital.

Police reported that they were treated and later released.

According to the state’s review of the shooting, the witnesses from the first crime scene told the police that Moran “waited for the motorcycle to pull up and stop, before shooting him.” They also “did not observe any prior interactions between the shooter and the victim or anything indicating provocation.”

At the site of the second shooting, Moran, Rodriguez and child entered the store together.

They “nonchalantly walk around the store,” while Moran held a reflective sun visor at his side with something long wrapped in it, according to the documents. When Moran tried to buy cigarettes and his card was declined, he produced the shotgun from the visor and shot Strickland at point blank range.

Moran then attempted to shoot the other clerk, but the firearm did not discharge. At that point, Moran turned the gun on Huwiler as he sought cover. Moran, Rodriguez and child returned to the car and fled.

The state noted that Moran committed multiple felonies, including murder and aggravated battery.

“The danger presented to innocent civilians and to the assembled police officers, lawfully carrying out their duties, by the actions of Christopher Moran justified the use of deadly force by Officer Andrew Miller, Officer John DiGiovanni, Officer Christopher Gugliotta and Officer Robert Reese,” the review states.

All four officers reported that they had fired their weapons.

“None of the shooters had body-worn cameras,” the review states.

However, another officer’s body-worn camera caught Reese stating that a “gun barrel came out the window.” A Mossberg 12-gauge pump shotgun was recovered from the car Moran was driving.

Seven bullets were recovered from Moran’s body, which had a total of 12 gunshot wounds.

“The toxicology report indicated that Mr. Moran had amphetamines, buprenorphine and cocaine metabolites in his system,” the review states.

Rodriguez and the child each sustained three gunshot wounds.

The state noted that it is “unfortunate” Rodriguez and the child were also shot.

“The shooting of Maria Rodriguez and Christopher Moran Jr. does not rise to the level of criminal conduct,” the review states. “(The officers) lacked mens rea, or intent, to cause great bodily harm against either of them for purposes of aggravated battery.”

The state also pointed out that the four officers did not conduct culpable negligence, given the “heightened danger” posed by Moran’s behavior, according to the review.

During interviews with authorities, Rodriguez recalled being with Moran, who went “cuckoo.” She described Moran as accusing her of cheating on him, and she said Moran took the baby from her.

According to the review, Cape police made contact with the couple for domestic issues on June 5, before the shootings occurred. Rodriguez witnessed Moran “playing with his rifles” afterward.

“She also witnessed him holding his rifle and yelling at a neighbor,” the report states. “She thought Moran was going to shoot the neighbor.”

Rodriguez told authorities that Moran then pointed the rifle at her and told her to get in the car. Moran had also screamed at Rodriguez in a foreign language, and he would not let her out of the vehicle.

“Rodriguez described Moran as having delusions where he didn’t believe people were human,” the documents states.

Rodriguez said he called Taylor “not human” before stating that he would prove it by shooting him, which he then did. She added that Strickland “grinned” back at Moran, and then Moran shot him.

When police caught up to Moran, he had planned to shoot them, according to the review.

Immediately following the shootings, the Florida Department of Children and Families confirmed that it had opened a child protection investigation. As of Thursday, the investigation was no longer active.

“The child protection investigation is closed, but we remain involved with the family,” Natalie Harrell, SunCoast Region communications director for the department, said.

Moran Jr. had initially been placed with a foster family in the department’s custody.

Harrell declined to provide a status update on the child on Thursday.

“The details of our involvement and the placement of the child remain confidential,” she said.

Rodriguez, nor any family members, could be reached for comment on Thursday.