Known around the neighborhood as "Pops," 80-year-old Isaac Singletary moved into his high-crime Jacksonville, Fla., neighborhood in 1987 to care for and protect his sister and mother, both of whom were sick at the time. The retired repairman was known to sit in front of his house in a lawn chair to shoo trespassers and drug dealers away from his property.
But in January 2007, two undercover narcotics cops, posed as drug dealers, set up shop on Singletary's lawn. Singletary first came out of his house and yelled at them to leave. They didn't. He went back inside. Minutes later, he came out again and told them to leave, this time while waving a handgun. One of the cops then opened fire. Wounded, Singletary tried to escape into his backyard. The cops chased him down and shot him again, this time in the back. Singletary died at the scene. They never told Singletary they were police officers.
The police initially claimed Singletary tried to rob them, then they claimed Singletary fired first. Five witnesses said that wasn't true. Three months later, investigating state attorney Harry Shorstein initially expressed some frustration with the operation. "If we're just selling drugs to addicts, I don't know what we're accomplishing," he told the Florida Times-Union.
But three months later, Shorstein cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing. His report included a couple of inconsistencies. First, while attorneys for Singletary's family found four witnesses who said the police fired first, Shorstein could find only one -- a convicted drug dealer Shorstein deemed untrustworthy. Second, while Shorstein criticized the police officers for not identifying themselves before they started shooting at Singletary, he still put the bulk of the blame on Singletary himself. He concluded Singletary "was an armed civilian who refused orders to drop his gun," even though Singletary thought the orders came from two drug dealers.
Ironically, Singletary's death came a little less than two years after Florida passed a highly publicized law expanding the right to self-defense. The "Stand Your Ground" law removed the traditional legal requirement that when faced with a threat, you must first attempt to escape before using lethal force.
An internal report from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office also cleared the two undercover officers, Darrin Green and James Narcisse, of violating any department policies. The report, written by five members of the sheriff's department, concluded that they had followed department procedures, and that "no further action" was necessary. Narcisse, the first officer to fire at Singletary, was later fired for disciplinary reasons that the sheriff's department said were unrelated to the Singletary case.
Sheriff John Rutherford eventually conceded that Singletary was "a good citizen" and that his death was "a tragic incident." But he also rebuffed calls to end undercover drug stings like the one police were conducting on Singletary's property. Then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist called it one of the "challenges" of keeping a community safe. In 2010, the city of Jacksonville agreed to pay Singletary's family a $200,000 settlement, though the city admitted no wrongdoing.
Sources: David Hunt, "In the wake of 2 fatal shootings, some question police tactics," Florida Times-Union, January 27, 2007; Mary Kelli Palka, "A neighborhood wonders: Why isn't the sheriff here?; Rutherford says a federal review isn't needed, defends not going to the scene," Florida Times-Union, January 30, 2007; Bridget Murphy, "Man's family wants cops to face charges," Florida Times-Union, July 28, 2007; Jessie-Lynne Kerr, "Board clears officers in shooting; 'No further action' is needed by police in the case of the January death of an 80-year-old man," Florida Times-Union, August 2, 2008; Matt Galnor, "City to pay $200,000 in shooting; Officers killed man in 2007," Florida Times-Union, June 22, 2010; Bridget Murphy and Jim Schoettler, "Drug stings to continue, sheriff says," Florida Times-Union, January 30, 2007.