Fla. deputy fatally shot friend in ‘avoidable accident,’ sheriff says

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Andrew Lawson and his roommate, Austin Walsh — both deputies with the sheriff’s office in Brevard County, Fla. — had spent Friday night at home playing “Call of Duty” when Lawson retreated to his bedroom after midnight and pulled out his Glock.

When Walsh appeared in the doorway, Lawson pulled the trigger of what he thought was an empty gun, according to investigators.

He did so “jokingly,” Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said in a news conference Sunday. Though nothing happened that first time, when Lawson pulled the trigger again, a bullet was released, hitting Walsh below his right eye and killing him, according to an arrest affidavit for Lawson.

“This unnecessary and totally avoidable incident not only took the life of an amazing young man and deputy, but it has also forever changed the life of another good young man who made an extremely poor and reckless decision,” Ivey told reporters.

On Sunday, Lawson, 22, was arrested and charged with manslaughter in what Ivey described as an “extremely dumb” accident and a “horrible, irresponsible decision.” The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Palm Bay Police Department are investigating. Lawson has been “fully cooperative,” Ivey said.

Court documents did not list an attorney for Lawson, and he did not respond to a phone message from The Washington Post on Monday night. Authorities have not said whether the weapon that killed Walsh was issued by the sheriff’s office.

Walsh, 23, had worked with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office since he was 18, first as a public safety officer and later becoming a deputy, which the sheriff said had been Walsh’s dream. He was also a member of the agency’s explorer program, an initiative that teaches young people about law enforcement.

Ivey described Walsh and Lawson as “the best of friends.”

On Friday night, the two had been hanging out at their home in Palm Bay after playing the video game “Call of Duty” with friends, officials said.

In his room, Lawson was holding his black 9mm semiautomatic pistol, a gun that fires one bullet with each trigger pull and is typically fed with a magazine, which he told police he thought was unloaded, according to the affidavit. He pointed the pistol at Walsh, pulling the trigger once, and when it did not go off, he repeated the motion a second time, the affidavit states.

A single shot was fired, fatally striking Walsh, according to the affidavit.

Lawson called 911 and was “distraught and devastated” when officers arrived, the sheriff said.

Lawson told Palm Bay police Sgt. Lewis Jones outside his home Saturday that he’d checked to see whether the pistol was loaded before pulling its trigger, the affidavit states. Lawson also told the sergeant that he “should have known” the weapon was loaded based on its weight, according to the affidavit.

Lawson is scheduled to make his next appearance in court Jan. 5.

Before his death, Walsh had been learning to fly planes so he could get his pilot’s license, a longtime dream of his, said Avery McDonald, a close friend.

The two struck up an online friendship when they were in high school, bonding over their interests in Star Wars, gaming and careers in law enforcement.

McDonald, now 24 and living in Alaska, had flown to Florida in August to celebrate Walsh’s 23rd birthday. Walsh introduced McDonald to his friends and persuaded him to move to Florida and apply for a job with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

They’d planned a second trip for this month, McDonald said, and Walsh was supposed to pick him up from the airport on Saturday. McDonald will still take the trip at the end of the week and move to Florida later this month. But he’ll do it without Walsh.

“It’s going to hurt a lot,” McDonald said. “But he introduced me to a lot of good people.”

McDonald plans to wear a black memorial bracelet created in Walsh’s honor, “just so he’s always with me.”

Etched on the bracelet in white letters are the words: “Til Valhalla brother, may you live on forever.”

Source link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/12/06/florida-deputy-firearm-accident-brevard/

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