Pinellas deputy arrested for attempted manslaughter

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A Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy has been charged with attempted manslaughter after shooting an unarmed, handcuffed man during a December traffic stop.

Deputy Timothy Virden, a veteran of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, was part of a December 30 traffic stop in Madeira Beach when he and another deputy pulled over a vehicle for a DUI investigation.

Hours after the shooting had taken place, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that 26-year-old Dylan Tompkins-Holmes -- while handcuffed -- had successfully pulled Virden’s gun out of its secured holster and threatened the deputy.  

Gualtieri also provided a legal justification for his deputy’s actions: “During the course of that struggle, Deputy Virden was concerned and feared his safety and his life,” he told gathering morning news crews.  “Deputy Virden was able to get his gun back and he shot Tompkins-Holmes twice.”

At a Friday news conference, he reversed course.

“Simply put, Deputy Virden’s version of events did not and could not happen, and there was no legal justification for the shooting of Dylan Tompkins-Holmes,” Gualtieri said. 

On Thursday, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigators presented the state attorney’s office with the results of their month-long investigation into one of their own.  Friday morning, State Attorney Bernie McCabe filed attempted manslaughter charges against the deputy.

LINK: Read the affidavit (PDF)

Virden turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest, his agency said today. He was released after posting a $2,000 bond. 

On Friday, Gualtieri confirmed that Tomkins-Holmes never grabbed the deputy’s weapon.

The sheriff showed off a utility belt and gun holster to demonstrate how improbable that would have been to begin with: The 26-year-old was drunk, handcuffed, and did not have proprietary knowledge on how to release a gun out of the deputy’s twice-secured holster.

The sheriff added that even if that part had been true, Virden would have been the only one with the gun when he shot the handcuffed man.

He played dashcam video of the shooting which countered the deputy's account.

"There's no evidence of a struggle, no evidence of anybody reaching for a gun," Gualtieri offered after showing the footage. "This is all inconsistent with Deputy Virden's version of events."

A second deputy at the scene also refuted Virden's claims that Tompkins-Holmes was a threat.

"All he had to do was walk away," the sheriff continued. "There was no justification for shooting Tompkins-Holmes."

Gualtieri maintained the sheriff’s office was correct in charging Tompkins-Holmes with “obstruction."  He also said he had no regrets for justifying the shooting the morning it took place, before the agency had completed an investigation.

“I gave the version of events as we knew them at the time,” he said. “It’s a 180 because a man lied.”

“Shame on him for saying that,” Virden’s attorney, Joe Ciarciaglino, told FOX 13. “The sheriff was present on the morning of the shooting, just like I was, and the sheriff heard Virden’s version of what occurred. He, the sheriff, gave a press conference, saying he acted properly.”

Ciarciaglino says Virden’s firing document says he was terminated because he violated a general order about use of force.  He says his client did nothing wrong and that the charges were “not appropriate.”

Gualtieri claimed the sheriff’s office would have full immunity from a civil lawsuit.  Court cases, however, have been successfully fought or settled when an agency is held responsible for negligent hiring or training.

The sheriff said he’s been in touch with Tompkins-Holmes’ attorney, and offered to pay medical expenses.  "The trauma surgeon said it was centimeters away from his aorta,” he said.

Responding to a question from FOX 13, Gualtieri said his agency waited a month to report the discrepancies between the deputy’s version of events and what the evidence showed because it took “weeks” for the case to surface.

FOX 13 obtained the criminal affidavit Virden wrote the morning of the shooting, which says Tompkins-Holmes, a passenger in the vehicle which was stopped, was arrested for obstruction after “repeatedly” telling the driver to not provide information for the sobriety test.

The affidavit makes no mention of Tompkins-Holmes ever touching the deputy’s gun. Tomkins-Holmes never went to jail and was never charged with assault on an officer.

A month ago, Gualtieri highlighted Tompkins-Holmes' arrest history.

On Friday, he did another reversal.

“Dylan’s no angel, but he’s not a bad guy,” the sheriff said, adding that he’s never been charged with any violent crimes.