A 13-year-old boy is facing possible charges of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer after Lakeland Police Chief Sam Taylor said the boy shot one of his officers during a foot chase Wednesday afternoon.
The officer, Jamie Smith, responded to 9-1-1 calls about shots fired near Simpson Park. It was about 5:15 p.m., when children could have been playing in the park and around a nearby apartment complex where Smith and the suspect wound up.
Smith, who has been on the LPD force for about two years, spotted the suspect car from the Simpson Park shooting — a white Dodge Avenger. Smith followed the car in his squad car to 10th Street and Kettles Avenue a few blocks away, where three males got out of the car and ran, including one clearly carrying a gun.
Smith began running after the one with the gun, identified by the chief as 13-year-old Wesley Dalmas, yelling at him several times to drop the gun.
Dalmas ran onto the property of Carrington Place Apartments and Smith lost sight of him when he turned a corner. As Smith continued to run after him, Smith rounded the corner, too, and was met with the sight of Dalmas pointing the gun at him. Taylor said Dalmas fired the gun at least once, hitting Smith in the left foot.
Smith fired back and Dalmas took off again. Smith then radioed for help, saying he had been hit, but was continuing to chase the suspect and gave a description of Dalmas.
“He actually did a reload as he was running,” Taylor said during a 10 p.m. press conference. “He dropped a magazine and started another magazine rounding the corner and began to look for the suspect.”
Other officers arrived and joined the search as Smith asked neighbors if they saw where Dalmas ran to.
“He walks past a large set of bushes that are close up to one of the buildings. He doesn’t see him,” Taylor said. “As he turns around, this gentleman, the 13-year-old, jumps out of the bushes and begins to flee away and they engage in another gun battle there. (In) the second gun battle, the 13-year-old is struck several times, goes down. The officers immediately render first-aid to him and he is ultimately transported to Tampa General Hospital, where he was being treated.”
Lakeland police released video footage of the suspect allegedly firing at the pursuing officer.
Both Taylor and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd were flabbergasted and outraged that a 13-year-old boy tried to kill a police officer. The duo told LkldNow that Dalmas had attended nearby Rochelle School of the Arts until he was expelled for an unspecified reason.
Judd said in a phone call with LkldNow that the issue was serious enough that law enforcement could’ve gotten involved, but the school chose to handle it through a pre-arrest diversion program. Judd said Dalmas was “shielded from opportunities from the criminal justice system,” which provides programs for juvenile delinquents.
Judd said at the press conference that Dalmas had been given probation following January charges of burglarizing cars, during which he stole a firearm. When a neighbor heard a noise and confronted Dalmas, he pointed a gun at her, Judd said in the phone call.
“He had four or five felonies that he amassed in January when we took the gun from him. He is a very dangerous, hardened criminal,” Judd said during the press conference. “I don’t care what his chronological age is. When you shoot at a police officer, you bought yourself a long time in state prison as soon as we convict him … This is serious business. He entered into adult criminal activity and we’re going to treat it like an adult doing violent felonious criminal activity.”
Taylor said they were looking into whether Dalmas was in a gang or had been labeled already as a gang member.
“We’re working on that right now. There is some indication that that is that is exactly — either a gang member or an associate,” Taylor said. “That’s probably going to be the case, yes.”
Judd said Dalmas and the other two suspects went to Simpson Park looking for someone specific to shoot.
“They’re looking for a guy to shoot him up, they apparently find him and do a drive-by shooting,” Judd said.
Judd created a county-wide gang task force last year after a sharp rise in drive-by shootings. According to a list provided by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in 2017, there were two drive by shootings in the entire county. In 2020, the amount spiked to 49, with 20 of those in Lakeland alone. Last year, there were 59, with 24 in Lakeland.
Judd and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office were called in to be the lead agency in the investigation as part of an incident task force. The agency involved in the shooting cannot investigate it, Judd explained. Law enforcement officers from the sheriff’s office, the Auburndale Police Department, the Lakeland Police Department and Haines City Police Department are a part of that task force.
Judd and Taylor praised Smith’s actions. Taylor said if Dalmas had been allowed to run off, he could have entered an apartment and held someone hostage or worse.
“That law enforcement officer risked his life tonight to make sure this community is safe,” Judd said.
Taylor said Dalmas was hit in the legs and had non-life-threatening injuries.
“Last we heard that he was gonna be treated and released, actually, so they were not serious injuries,” Taylor said.
Smith’s colleagues gave him first aid, put him in the back of a police car and drove him to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he currently is being treated. Taylor said they expected him to be released within the next several days.
Judd and Taylor cited body camera and squad car camera footage as they described the chase. Judd has stubbornly refused to equip his deputies with body cameras, while Lakeland Police has given them to officers beginning in December as part of an effort to deepen trust with the community. When LkldNow asked Judd if he would say the cameras helped in this case, he gave the kind of answer for which Judd has become famous.
“This investigation could have been solved by Helen Keller without any video,” Judd said. “We had an officer right there that saw it all. We had backup officers that saw it all, that engaged also engaged in the firefight. You know this is a slam dunk case by any stretch of the imagination. With cameras, without cameras, with your eyes closed or your eyes open.”
Taylor said at the 10 p.m. press conference that they had a second suspect from the Simpson Park shooting in custody and were close to arresting the third man.
Taylor was concerned about the amount of rage a 13-year-old can have to try to kill a police officer.
“He’s 13 years old,” Taylor said, repeating it. “He’s 13 years old. Unbelievable. What are we doing? (He has) an arrest history and also has the fortitude and the anger inside of him to turn around and point a handgun at a police officer. And not only point that handgun, but take a shot at a police officer.”
Judd was also shocked.
“He’s 13 freaking years old,” Judd said. “And at 13 years of age, he decides that he’ll have a shootout and attempt to murder a Lakeland Police officer. He will kill somebody if he’s not locked up.”
Dalmas will be taken to Juvenile Detention in Bartow when he is released from Tampa General Hospital. He will undergo an evaluation and be held for up to three weeks, although it could be longer because of the prior felony charges and his probationary status.
This is the second time in three months that someone has attempted to kill a Lakeland Police officer. In February, Capt. Eric Harper was pursuing Alex Green, a suspect in the Lakeland mass shooting, in which a dozen men were shot in broad daylight at the end of January. Harper did a pit maneuver to stop Green’s truck in heavy traffic in Winter Haven. The suspect ran and car-jacked 64-year-old woman and tried to run over Harper when the officer tried to stop him. Harper shot the suspect, who later died. They found weapons and large amounts of cash and drugs in Green’s truck.
This story has been corrected. The shooting happened near Simpson Park, Dalmas was not crouched down when he allegedly shot Officer Smith, and Dalmas pointed a gun at a neighbor trying to stop a car burglary in progress.
The shooting is the latest in a string of incidents involving minors and loaded guns:
- Oct. 26 – Fifteen-year-old Santiago Soto-Garcia was arrested after allegedly bringing a 9mm semi-automatic “ghost gun” with the serial number removed to Tenoroc High School and threatening another student with it. (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)
- Dec. 16 – Twelve-year-old Josiah Cruz, a seventh-grader at Lake Gibson Middle School, died after accidentally shooting himself with a loaded gun he found in a vehicle in a friend’s garage during a sleepover. (City of Lakeland)
- Jan. 5 – Two 13-year-old Lakeland Highlands Middle School students were arrested and charged with several felonies for bringing a handgun to school.
- Jan. 30 – Christian Fennell, 15, of Lakeland was one of five people arrested in connection with the drive-by shooting of 11 people on North Iowa Avenue.
- Feb. 22 – A 17-year-old girl was arrested after bringing a loaded handgun to Lakeland High School.
- Mar. 5 – A 13-year-old boy who was on probation accidentally shot an 11-year-old girl in the backseat of a car while putting a 9mm handgun in his waistband. The girl, who was shot in the upper leg, survived. The boy was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a delinquent, carrying a concealed firearm, unlawful possession of a firearm by a person under 18 and culpable negligence. (City of Lakeland)
SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: email@example.com