TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A teenage boy has been charged in connection with the December shooting death of another teen at a Tampa police officer’s home.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says the 15-year-old who shot and killed Bradley Hulett on Dec. 13 has been arrested and charged with manslaughter with a firearm. The teen turned himself in to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office on Friday afternoon alongside his attorney and parents.
“There is a path now, I think, to closure for us and that helps,” Bradley Hulett’s father Brad said in a news conference on Friday. “We struggle. We’re a tight family, we’re a big family. We’ve had a very difficult time with this. Bradley was the glue for our family.”
Investigators say 15-year-old Hulett was shot and killed inside a Tampa police officer’s home on Dec. 13. Hulett was one of four boys who were at the home after school. One of the other boys who was there lives at the home and is the son of the officer.
Deputies have previously said the three other teenagers who were at the home when the shooting happened lawyered up immediately. The sheriff’s office also said the Tampa police officer only provided limited information through his attorney.
Earlier this month, the sheriff’s office turned its investigation over to the state attorney’s office.
State Attorney Andrew Warren announced Friday his office completed its investigation and determined the shooter would be charged.
“The evidence clearly establishes that this was a tragic accident where all the boys mistakenly believed that the gun was not loaded,” Warren said in a statement. “The lack of intent or malice, however, does not foreclose that a crime occurred.”
Investigators say the four boys went to the Fishhawk home after school on Dec. 13. The police officer’s master bedroom was locked while the boys were home but State Attorney Andrew Warren says the officer’s son used a paperclip to unlock it so he could get inside to use the bathroom. When he was done, he did not lock the door behind him.
Warren says the son went back into the master bedroom later with two of the other boys to find a plunger. While they were in the bedroom, investigators say they noticed the father’s gun sitting in a safety holster on a table. The state attorney says there was no magazine in the gun but there was a single round in the chamber.
“The boy who lived at the house mistakenly believed the gun to be unloaded and engaged the safety release to remove it from the holster,” Warren said. “He took the gun out of his father’s room and along with the two other boys returned to his bedroom, where the fourth teenager – the victim – was sitting at a desk playing video games.”
Authorities say while all four teens were in the boy’s bedroom, one of the friends took the gun from the officer’s son and, believing the gun was unloaded, pulled the trigger and fired a single round that hit Hulett in the back of the head.
“In Florida, an unintentional killing resulting from the reckless disregard for the safety of another person constitutes manslaughter,” Warren said. “In this matter, the shooter pointed the gun in the direction of the victim and pulled the trigger without knowing—and therefore under the law, without caring—whether it was loaded. This conduct sufficiently demonstrates a reckless disregard for human life.”
The charge that the 15-year-old accused shooter faces is a first-degree felony. Deputies say he was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center after turning himself in.
The Tampa officer who lives at the home where the shooting happened will not be charged, the state attorney says.
“The evidence establishes the homeowner’s son was not permitted in his father’s bedroom; the father had specifically told him not to enter the master bedroom; the door was locked; and the gun was in a safety holster,” Warren said. “Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that the father should have had any concerns about his son accessing the gun.”
According to the state attorney’s office, the gun was not locked in a safe or fitted with a trigger lock. The office also pointed out the bedroom door was locked but could be unlocked relatively easily.
“Under Florida law, however, that is insufficient to establish a violation of the safe storage law. Instead, the minor’s access must have been ‘likely’ – not just possible or foreseeable – and the father’s belief that the gun was secure must have been unreasonable – not just mistaken or ill-advised,” Warren said.
Brad Hulett, a gun owner himself, said Friday trigger locks and safes are important when it comes to storing guns.
“It’s unfortunate that that didn’t happen in this case because we have a completely different outcome if something that simple is followed, and that reasonable, frankly,” Hulett said.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is also urging gun owners to practice safe gun storage.
“Anyone handling a firearm should always behave with the presumption that the firearm is loaded. Responsible gun owners should secure their weapons beyond the reach of anyone, especially children and teenagers,” the sheriff said in a statement. “No parent or responsible gun owner wants another life to be senselessly lost because of carelessness.”
The sheriff’s statement goes on to say, “if the law, as written and as reflected in the state attorney’s decision, prevents criminal accountability, we should all advocate to change it.”
“While the statute as written and the lawyers who interpret it may not differentiate criminal responsibility based on familiarity with guns, as law enforcement officers, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard in order to prevent such tragic consequences, and ultimately, we must answer to a higher authority when asked why we didn’t do more. Our kids deserve better,” Chronister said.
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