Eligible to return, cemetery shooting trooper Daniel Cole decides to take personal leave

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - There is one question no one has answered about Monday's early morning shooting at the Royal Palm Cemetery in Pinellas Park.

What happened in the last few seconds before FHP Trooper Daniel Cole fired his weapon, prompting him to shoot the armed property owner, Clifford Work?

"The majority of officers don't even fire their firearm in a 25-year career," said law enforcement expert Rod Reder.

Reder calls the shooting "concerning," not simply because of the uncertainty around it, but also because it wasn't Trooper Cole's first.

In 2001, Trooper Cole shot a man in the hand during a traffic stop. He also used a stun-gun on a woman last September.  Investigations both times exonerated Trooper Cole and he returned to work.

Friday was the first day Trooper Cole could return to work after a three-day paid administrative leave, but he chose to take personal time off.

"If you notice, none of these shootings are like a bank robber coming out with a gun, just a cut and dry shooting," Reder said. "They all give pause for concern."

According to FHP Spokesman Steve Gaskins, Trooper Cole is not considered a risk, and is welcome to return to his duties.

Each officer-involved incident is investigated separately, so Trooper Cole's prior record wouldn't affect the investigation into whether he acted appropriately Monday morning.

Trooper Cole was tracking a LoJack signal from a stolen motorcycle, which he found stashed in the woods near a cemetery.  The property owner just happened to be there, working.

"Just because there were incidents he was involved in, doesn't make him and his actions on Monday improper," Sgt. Gaskins said.

Sgt. Gaskins points to Trooper Cole's 13 years of service with FHP, daily service in the face of danger now overshadowed by three incidents.

"This one's newsworthy because rounds went off and somebody was struck," Gaskins said. "I'm saying that officers are asked to encounter people who sometimes are bad."

Still, Reder questions whether Officer Cole's force was justified, an answer yet to be determined by an internal investigation that may take a year.

"We hire humans. You're going to have mistakes. You're going to have internal affairs investigations," Reder said.  "What you need to do is find bad apples and get rid of them."

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