Riverview, FL – An 88-year-old retired Tampa police sergeant was fatally shot by a Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy during a welfare check at his home Tuesday morning (video below).
Retired Tampa Police Sergeant Ronald Ehrich, a widower living on his own, was very hard of hearing and “had to read your lips” if he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, his friend, Angel Ortiz, told the Tampa Bay Times.
Ortiz, 51, said he believes Ehrich may not have gotten a good look at the deputy who came to check on him Dec. 7 after a neighbor called to report his garage door and a door into his home were sitting open.
The neighbor told police she hadn’t seen Ehrich out and about in two days.
If the retired police sergeant didn’t have his hearing aids in, he likely couldn’t hear the deputy and probably thought she was a home intruder, Ortiz told the Tampa Bay Times.
“If he knew she was a police officer, he would have complied right away,” Ortiz insisted.
The incident began at approximately 7:30 a.m., when the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) received the report from the neighbor about Ehrich’s open doors, the department said in a press release.
HCSO Deputy Anastacia Castillo responded to the home and found the doors standing open, so she entered the residence at tried to make contact with the homeowner.
Bodycam footage showed Deputy Castillo knocking on the open interior door from the garage while announcing herself as “sheriff’s office.”
She announced herself repeatedly as she moved down the hallway and throughout the main living area of the home.
Deputy Castillo then began heading upstairs, pausing to knock on the wall, while calling out “sheriff’s office yet again.
After clearing several bedrooms, she reached the end of a hallway and knocked on a closed door.
“Who’s there?” a man said from the other side.
“Sheriff’s office, sir. It’s Deputy Castillo,” she responded.
The retired police sergeant didn’t respond, but issued a warning a few moments later.
“I have a gun – you better get the hell out of here,” he said.
Deputy Castillo moved away from the door and took cover around the corner while asking Ehrich if he was okay and identifying herself once again.
That’s when the retired sergeant emerged from his room with a gun, according to the press release.
Deputy Castillo ordered him to put the gun down and radioed for backup as she backed into another bedroom and continued to yell out “sheriff’s office,” bodycam footage showed.
“You’re out of your [expletive] mind,” Ehrich said a second later.
“Sir, put the gun down please,” Deputy Castillo called out. “I just want to make sure you’re okay! Please put the gun down…you’re not in trouble, we just want to make sure you’re okay.”
But the retired police sergeant didn’t respond.
“I tell you what you do,” Ehrich said several moments later. “Come out into the open and sit down. Sit down or I’ll blow you right out of the …”
The deputy spoke over him, telling him she didn’t want “to do this,” the video showed.
“Please, put the gun down,” she begged.
Deputy Castillo radioed Ehrich’s position and hers to other responding units and reiterated that he was armed with a gun.
“Well, we’re gonna find out,” Ehrich said, heading towards the bedroom. “Where the hell you at?”
Deputy Castillo fired three rounds just as the retired police sergeant passed through the open door, the video showed.
He immediately collapsed to the floor.
Ehrich was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the HCSO said.
Ortiz told the Tampa Bay Times that if Ehrich was sleeping when Deputy Castillo arrived at his home, he probably wasn’t wearing his hearing aids.
He said he also fears the retired police sergeant might not have gotten a clear enough look at the deputy to realize she was in uniform and wasn’t a home intruder, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the entire situation was a tragedy, but that Deputy Castillo was afraid for her life and was left with no options.
“I don’t know what more she could have done,” Sheriff Chronister told the Tampa Bay Times.
“There is no other way to describe this other than tragic,” the sheriff said in the department’ press release. “This deputy went in to save a life, expecting to find someone experiencing a medical emergency. She made every attempt to deescalate the situation before being forced to fire her weapon for her own safety.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling the ongoing investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting, as per protocol.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. Warning – Graphic Content: