On Nov. 12, a grand jury cleared two Leon County Sheriff deputies in the October shooting of James Baker. The jury found that Deputy Dustin Hatcher and Deputy Christopher Fender were justified in their use of deadly force.
The jury heard testimonies from use of force experts, as well as Detective Bernabe Hernandez, Sergeant Todd Hays and witnesses Kathryn Brock and Beverly Gamalero. In addition, the jury was provided photographs, information on evidence and footage of the incident from an officer camera that was present at the shooting.
According to the summary released by the State Attorney’s Office, the incident took place on Oct. 2, 2020 at 2002 Aenon Church Road. Baker, who was searching for a missing wallet, had pointed a gun at Brock and other witnesses. He eventually held Brock at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived. Baker then shot at deputies Fender and Hatcher first after being told to lower his firearm and fired at law enforcement, causing both parties to engage in a gunfight firing a total of six shots. Baker was shot multiple times and died due to sustained injuries after running into nearby woods to avoid crossfire.
According to Gamalero, Baker’s sister, he was already battling with addiction to methamphetamine and paranoia, and he feared going back to jail. At the scene, a note addressed by Baker was found that stated, “This is not the way I planned for all of this to go,” insinuating Baker’s anticipation of his death.
The jury determined in this case that Deputies Fender and Hatcher, along with Sergeant Hays, acted heroically. They also found that Baker had “suicidal plans” and had toxic levels of methamphetamine in his system.
The grand jury ruled unanimously that the conduct of law enforcement was lawful and justifiable for the use of deadly force pursuant to the Florida Statutes.