ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – In the first report issued by the Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Task Force, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri wrote that the Aug. 7 shooting involving a St. Petersburg Police officer was justified. But he didn’t stop there.
Sheriff Gualtieri wrote, “However, it is also my conclusion that this matter should have been handled as a mental health call and not a criminal matter involving a minor petit theft.
Officer Alison Savarese responded to the French Quarter Condos at 4050 4th Street North in St. Pete around 9 p.m. after a call about a neighbor dispute.
While investigating, detectives said 55-year-old Jeffrey Haarsma exited the front door of his second-floor residence. Detectives said Savarese climbed the stairs to the second floor to speak with him. When she arrived, Haarsma reportedly walked toward her in an “aggressive manner.”
When the officer attempted to detain the man, he allegedly shoved her backward and a struggle ensued. The two went to the ground while fighting and when they stood up, Haarsma reportedly grabbed Sevarese’s throat and squeezed. The officer said she could not breathe, and also noticed the man was tugging at her belt.
Detectives said the officer feared for her life, so she fired two shots at the man. He was transported to the hospital where he later died.
Dr. Nancy Silva is a psychotherapist and treated Haarsma for more than a decade. Normally, she’s not permitted to speak about patients, but Haarsma’s family members allowed her to do so in this case.
She believes if she had been there that day, she might have been able to speak with him and get him the help he needed.
“I’m disappointed that he wasn’t baker acted (hospitalized for his mental health condition), that it wasn’t approached that way,” said Dr. Silva. “I think it’s really, really important to get a system in place to make sure that never happens again. “
Dr. Silva says after that amount of time, counselors develop a relationship with clients, and she was devastated when she learned what happened.
“My heart is broken for Jeff, and for his family,” said Dr. Silva. “And for me.”
8 On Your Side reached out to the St. Petersburg Police Department for comment. A representative with the department said Chief Anthony Holloway would have a media availability on Thursday.
We also reached out to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri for a comment. He issued the following statement: “My findings are clearly set forth in the letter and I will have no further comment because the matter has now been referred to the St. Petersburg Police Department and they will be conducting an internal review. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further until the internal review is complete.”