An officer-involved shooting in St. Petersburg, Florida, could have gone much worse had the suspect’s gun not jammed.
According to Fox 13, a 23-year-old man with mental health and substance abuse issues shot at two St. Petersburg police officers, Officer Ronald McKenzie and Pavel Kuznetsov, as they confronted him in his van.
The suspect, Austin Kingos, was wanted on a misdemeanor charge for violating a stalking order.
During the engagement, the officers’ cruiser emergency lights were activated and they were clad in full uniform, so that it was clearly apparent they were police officers.
In released body camera footage, Officer Mckenzie can be seen first asking Kingos for his identification. Kingos was not readily cooperating, so Officer McKenzie opened the door of the car to get him to comply. Kingos began to kick and resist, and eventually pulled a gun on the officers.
“Officer McKenzie asked him for identification. Kingos did not immediately produce any ID and he was fidgeting around, and Officer McKenzie was concerned because of the movements and he couldn’t see Kingos’ hands,” said Sheriff Gualtieri in a press conference. “He opened the driver’s side of the door, at which time Kingos turned and began to actively kick and resist Officer McKenzie.”
During the altercation, Officer Kuznetsov parked behind McKenzie’s cruiser and was approaching Kingos’ vehicle to offer assistance when the shots rang out. Kingos’ first bullet barely missed, and then his gun jammed. McKenzie returned fire and struck the suspect in the leg.
“If Officer Kuznetsov’s head had been tilted slightly to the left, or he had taken one more step before he stopped, There’s no doubt that he would have been shot in the head,” Gualtieri said.
“Kingos fired a round and as described by Officer Kuznetsov, ‘It literally whizzed by his head,’” the sheriff continued. “He said he could hear the round whizz by his head. It was that close.”
The sheriff said the bullet went through an apartment window and got stuck in a door. Fortunately, Kingos’ gun jammed after the first shot. If it hadn’t, there is no question according to investigators that he would have fired more rounds.
Sheriff Gualtieri said the event shows how fast things can become potentially deadly for officers.
“This event exemplifies several things, including how fast situations escalate, and how fast law enforcement officers have to react when someone decides that they want to kill a cop,” the sheriff said. “It was about 29 seconds from the time that Officer McKenzie exited his cruiser until Kingos fired his gun at the officers.”
Dashcam footage showed Kingos exiting through the van’s passenger side after being shot. The officers pursued him and took him into custody at 108th Avenue and 4th Street.
According to an investigation by the Pinellas County Deadly Force Task Force, family members told detectives that Kingos suffers with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Family members also said that he was smoking marijuana and not taking his medication. Kingos violated a restraining order against a woman by sending her “unwanted items” in the mail.
“This is a case where the intersection of guns, drugs, and a person with mental health issues led to a very bad result,” the sheriff said. “We could have very well be talking about a line of duty death of an officer. I hope he gets treatment and I hope he gets to where he needs to be but he almost killed two cops in this county and he needs to be held accountable.”