LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Those who know Sgt. Timothy O’Brien describe him as a deputy who believes in the core purpose of law enforcement: to protect and serve. But his longtime career with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office seemed to shatter in front of him in 2015: within two and a half months, he was involved in two fatal shootings on two different calls, reported WFTV.
O’Brien was a corporal in April 2015 when he responded to the first call. It involved a domestic disturbance. A woman said her 58-year-old son was belligerent and refused to leave.
O’Brien responded with Deputy Sheriff Jackie Suttles. According to a Sheriff’s Office transcript, Daniel Davis was yelling at his mother that he was going to kill them. Dispatch notes showed Davis was taking a lot of medications and was recently released from Lifestream, a mental health facility in Orange County, a week earlier.
“I’m going to kill you. … You’re going to die today.”
– Daniel Davis
Upon arrival, O’Brien and Suttles found the suspect sitting on a couch. When they walked into the home, O’Brien said Davis stood in a “fighting stance” and they could see he had an open blade knife in his right hand. O’Brien said Davis stated, “I’m going to kill you,” and “you’re going to die today.”
“We were yelling at him, ‘Drop the knife.’ He basically kept saying somebody’s going to die. Both myself and the other deputy had our firearms pointed at him,” O’Brien told investigative reporter Daralene Jones.
Suttles deployed a department-issued Taser.
“I watched in slow motion as both probes hit him. He fell back onto the couch, and it was like he launched back up on his feet, started yelling and started charging at us, and at that point, I shot two rounds,” O’Brien recalled.
A report by WFTV at the time found Davis had a criminal history that included battery on a law enforcement officer.
According to the investigative report, Davis still had the knife in his hand.
Reporter Jones spent time with O’Brien to get insight regarding OISs for a series of reports. She rode around in his patrol car in South Lake County the day he shared his story publicly for the first time.
A sign of how dangerous the job is that Jones was required to wear a bullet-proof vest to ride in their vehicle, reported WFTV.
“We are basically a target when we wear this uniform,” O’Brien said.
The interview became emotional at times; particularly when he described trying to save the man who may tried to take his life.
“I began CPR until the fire department got there, but it was pretty much too late at that point. The biggest hurdle at that point was this: his mom was like 5 feet behind me the whole time and I thought she was actually outside,” O’Brien said as he fought back tears.
He shared how the family sent a thank you card acknowledging the difficult decision he was forced to make that day. Nevertheless, there was hesitation to open it. He thought it might be a death threat because of the tension surrounding the use of deadly force. But Davis’ family wanted him to know they didn’t blame him for the death of their loved one.
As a result of the fatal OIS, O’Brien took three and a half weeks off work.
Then in July, just two and a half months after the first shooting of his career, he once again was faced with the decision of whether to pull the trigger, according to WFTV.
The call came in about a home invasion in Mascotte. According to 911 dispatch records, a woman had barricaded herself in the bathroom of the house. In doing so, she told the dispatcher “multiple male subjects were inside the house with firearms.”
As O’Brien arrived on scene, he said one of the suspects walked out of the home and ran away.
A second suspect also took off on foot, O’Brien said. Unaware there was a third person inside of the home, O’Brien told Jones he thought the immediate threat was over, so he holstered his weapon.
Minutes later, the 911 caller ran out of the house, speaking a mix of Spanish and English, trying to warn O’Brien about that third suspect.
“Before I knew it, the kid was standing at the doorway with a rifle,” O’Brien recalled. “He immediately pointed it at me. I challenged him by saying, ‘Sheriff’s Office, drop the gun.’ At that point, when he swung the rifle over to me and brought it up to his shoulder, I was just drawing my pistol back out of my holster because I put it away thinking those were the only two guys there.”
Due to the immediate threat, he fired his weapon.
“One of the rounds broke his femur, the adrenaline alone allowed him to run 30 feet after being shot. It’s crazy,” O’Brien said.
That man was later identified as 20 year-old Chacarion Avant.
O’Brien immediately called his wife. “Two in two and a half months was tough, and making that phone call to my wife was just reassurance to me that I survived,” O’Brien said, again fighting back tears as he took a deep breath to regain his composure.
It’s almost as if no time has passed and he relived his worst nightmare. He had now been involved in two fatal shootings.
“That was crazy, thinking that a 20-year-old is out doing home invasions, armed with a rifle and no care in the world that there are two kids the whole time in that living room watching their uncle get beat up.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement performed independent reviews of both shootings and forwarded the facts of the case to the state attorney’s office. Furthermore, his own agency performed a review of his actions. Each investigation found the shootings justified.
As hard as it was to admit, O’Brien knew then he needed help, but he admitted he didn’t get the help he really needed right away. He battled nightmares, a fractured home life with his wife, and all-around anxiety about taking those two lives.
“I think it makes you a stronger person to make sure you still have feelings.”
Sgt. Timothy O’Brien
“I was stubborn for a while. I should’ve got some help sooner, but I didn’t realize how it was affecting my wife. Little things remind you, certain calls. It’s not just going there doing the call and leaving. It’s the aftereffects that we think of. People think [of law enforcement] this is their career, that’s what they do. Taking a life is not something we’re wired to do, and I’ve learned that,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien told Jones he was hesitant to speak out and nearly backed out. But he really wanted to share his story in hopes of helping others in law enforcement who battle the constant fear of appearing weak. “I’ve shed enough tears in front of my friends, my family, not embarrassed about it. I think it makes you a stronger person to make sure you still have feelings. Some people don’t look at us like that. They think we’re robots, that we’re just functioned to be a cop, go to calls and then leave. That old generation of ‘don’t talk about it because you’re going to seem weak’ is slowly going away, and hopefully, some of those guys out there are realizing that,” O’Brien said.
He now sees two different counselors through the agency’s employee assistance program.
“We’re making split-second decisions,” O’Brien said. “It affects your sleep, your eating, your physical fitness, your home life, your friends.”