SEBRING — Two Highlands County deputies have been cleared in the fatal shooting of a man following a five-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement
In a letter written Thursday to Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman, Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin said that deputies Cory Tomblin and Brian Van Fleet shot Ja’quar Mathis on Oct. 7, 2016, after Mathis pointed a gun at them.
“After considering the facts and applicable law, we have concluded that the actions of Deputies Tomblin and Van Fleet were justified under Chapter 776, Florida Statutes. As such, this office will take no further action regarding these officers,” Houchin wrote.
Although the officers each reported firing their weapons twice, Mathis sustained only three bullet wounds, according to the reports. Mathis died while being transported to a trauma center.
The report says that Mathis ignored multiple requests to drop his weapon and show his hands. The FDLE determined that after being shot three times, Mathis threw his gun into an apartment. That weapon contained Mathis’ palm print, the report said.
On Friday, Blackman met with community leaders regarding the investigation. He announced that Tomlin and Van Fleet will soon be returned to full duty. They had been doing primarily office jobs since the shooting.
Blackman also provided a presentation telling the results of the report, as well as showing a video of deputies pursuing a vehicle driven by Mathis. After the deputies reach the apartments, sounds of gunfire are heard, but there’s no video of the shootings. Blackman said the vehicle driven by Mathis rammed patrol vehicles twice.
Many of the people at the meeting talked about the need for programs to steer young people in a different direction. They want a sustained effort that doesn’t stop as time passes.
They talked about a mentoring program where volunteers would be matched with teenagers who need help.
The fatal shooting of Mathis occurred during one of the most violent weekends in recent Highlands County history.
Hours before the shooting, an argument that possibly stemmed from disagreement over some marijuana, escalated into a shooting where Dequante Yarde, 19, died. Initially, authorities indicated they believed that Michael McCune, 24, shot Yarde and that someone then shot McCune. However, McCune, who has recovered, has not been charged. And no one has been charged in connection with the shooting of McCune.
Witnesses told authorities that Mathis was upset over the shooting of Yarde. They said that Mathis, Ricky Nelson and Desmond Edwards then traveled to a neighborhood where they engaged in a gun battle with some residents of a house.
Later, Mathis and Nelson returned to the scene in a different vehicle with hopes of not being identified, authorities said. But, authorities said, someone saw them and identified them as being involved in the earlier shooting.
Deputies then pursued the men for several miles, heading north toward Avon Park and then south again. They ended up at an apartment. Nelson was later found inside the apartment, while Mathis was shot by deputies. Edwards surrendered himself to authorities.