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Former Tallahassee police officer says he was wrongfully fired

Posted at 9:18 PM, Aug 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-21 22:33:23-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - We're hearing for the first time from the former Tallahassee police officer fired last week.

Dozens of officers and their family members gathered at The Big Bend Police Benevolent Association's headquarters in Tallahassee Tuesday night, showing support for Damien Pearson.

Pearson is a veteran who worked for the Tallahassee Police Department for more than three years before he was fired. The Police Benevolent Association has now filed a grievance on Pearson's behalf, saying he should not have been punished for shooting at a suspect's vehicle back in March. 

TPD released video of the incident that led to the decision.

At about 1:30 in the morning on March 17th, TPD says Officer Pearson approached a suspicious car parked near the intersection of Jackson Bluff  and South Lipona Roads. That's when the driver backed into Pearson's patrol car and began to drive off.

Pearson tried to stop the driver by shooting at the vehicle. Pearson says he was scared for his life.

"I had less than 3 seconds to respond to the attack on my life," said Pearson. "I responded to the attack as I was trained to do. I genuinely believe the suspects were trying to kill me."

State Attorney Jack Campbell says it didn't violate Florida law, but TPD fired Pearson anyway, saying he did violate the department's deadly force guidelines. 

"The question is, why now? Why Damien? That's a question you'll have to pose to Chief DeLeo," said Steven Slade, Big Bend Police Benevolent Association President. 

"We have had multiple shootings under his leadership at vehicles," Slade continued. "This decision has given criminals the green light to say, if I go after a Tallahassee Police officer and they try to defend themselves, they're going to get terminated. We can't stand for that."

Slade, Pearson and his supporters say they'll keep pushing until the officer can get his job back.

After Pearson's firing last week, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo released a statement, saying in part:

"We must hold ourselves to the highest standard when making the decision to use deadly force. In this case, the officer's actions were not consistent with the Tallahassee Police Department's values and policies."