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Sheriff stands by deputies in shooting

But the son of the Dunedin man who was fatally shot during a domestic disturbance says he thinks they used excessive force and has hired an attorney.

By NICOLE JOHNSON
Published January 14, 2006


Often it's not the bank robbery or the drug deal gone bad that proves to be the most dangerous call for law enforcement officers.

It's the domestic dispute.

"And unfortunately the public doesn't realize how violent domestic situations can escalate," said John Dressback, executive director of the Southeastern Public Safety Institute at St. Petersburg College. "A verbal argument is one thing, but when there's violence or weapons, that's an entirely different situation."

Authorities say that's exactly what happened on Thursday when four deputies arrived at 1438 Chesterfield Drive in Dunedin.

And on Friday, Sheriff Jim Coats said he stood by the deputies' actions.

The son of the man they shot isn't so sure.

Deputies climbed over the backyard fence of the home using a ladder and encountered Donald R. Yates, 45, and Deborah K. Yates, 42, fighting.

Within minutes, Donald Yates was dead and his wife wounded.

Deborah Yates was standing behind her husband, Donald, who was holding a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun. It appeared Deborah Yates was attempting to stop her husband from killing himself, authorities said.

Deputy Jason Stibbard hit Yates with a Taser, which forced him away from Deborah Yates, officials said. Yates then pointed the handgun at deputies.

Deputy Christine Smith, 38, and Deputy Christopher White, 33, fired eight rounds from their .45-caliber handguns at Yates.

Donald Yates was shot several times in the legs and upper body. He later died at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Deborah Yates, who was shot in the left leg, remained in fair condition Friday in the hospital's intensive care unit.

Donald Yates did not fire his gun, authorities said.

The fourth officer involved, Cpl. John Davis, injured his ankle attempting to climb the fence, according to reports.

Deputy Smith, who has been with the department for eight years, and Deputy White, who has worked for the Sheriff's Office for 13 years, were placed on nondisciplinary paid administrative leave. On Friday, their personnel files showed that they have each received above satisfactory ratings on performance reviews.

None of the four deputies involved had shot anyone before, said Mac McMullen, Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman.

The investigation into just what happened on Thursday is ongoing, McMullen said.

Yates' eldest son, Donald R. Yates Jr., says he thinks deputies used excessive force. The 27-year-old Oldsmar resident has hired Largo attorney John Trevena to represent him.

"I'm concerned the deputies were reacting to (Donald Yates') response after being Tased and not (to) an actual threat," said Trevena, a well-known criminal lawyer who often champions cases alleging police misconduct. "What was interpreted as raising the gun could have really been a physical reaction to being Tased."

Authorities say they don't know how much time elapsed between the deputy shocking Yates and deputies firing their guns.

Deputies responding to incidents such as the one on Chesterfield Drive must go through a "threat assessment matrix," Coats said.

The process includes determining how big the threat is and responding accordingly, he said.

"Based on the briefings that I have had up to this point, I am comfortable with the actions of our deputies," Coats said. "It was a difficult time for all involved, including the deputies."

Nicole Johnson can be reached at njohnson@sptimes.com or 727 445-4162.

[Last modified January 14, 2006, 01:38:14]


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