Florida deputy fatally shoots woman who threatened him with shovel

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A Florida deputy fatally shot a woman who threatened him with a shovel on Thursday, authorities said.

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Jessiram Hweih Rivera, 24, of Winter Haven, died after the confrontation in the unincorporated area of Polk County near Wahneta, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the sheriff’s office, a caller said a woman, later identified as Rivera, was walking in and out of traffic along a road, The Ledger of Lakeland reported.

Sgt. Sean Speakman, 46, arrived just before 3:30 p.m. EST and told Rivera, 24, to put down her shovel, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“She was in an obvious state of agitation and she was holding a shovel,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Officials said Sparkman tried to speak with Rivera on a private dirt driveway, but she raised the shovel and walked toward the deputy while “threatening him with the shovel,” according to WTVT.

Investigators said Speakman fired four shots, although it was unclear how many hit Rivera, the television station reported.

Speakman performed CPR on the woman, who died after she was taken to an area hospital, according to The Ledger.

“She was pointing the sharp end of the shovel at him and approaching him and he was by himself,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told the newspaper via telephone. “You don’t have your Taser out because if it fails, she runs the shovel through you or cuts your throat with it.”

Rivera, who had two daughters ages 6 years old and 2 months old, was being helped by law enforcement personnel the day before her death, WFLA reported.

Jessica Rivera Hweih told the television station that her daughter struggled with addiction, mental health issues and had a criminal record that stretched over the past eight years.

“We’ve been standing behind her to help her but most of the time the system failed,” Hweih told the television station. “The system is trash.”

Rivera’s prior arrests include aggravated assault and battery on a law enforcement officer, according to WFLA.

“Behind that, there’s a story, where she’s been struggling and fighting with her demons and she wanted to be good so bad,” Hweih told the television station.

Sparkman, who was hired by the sheriff’s office in 1998, first worked in the department’s information technology department, the Times reported. He became a deputy in 2005 and was promoted to sergeant in 2018, the newspaper reported. He was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure, while the case is investigated, according to WTVT. He is also a SWAT team member.

“So he has far more training in controlling erratic situations than even the average deputy would,” Judd told The Ledger. “Certainly, if that situation could’ve been diffused without the protective action, the sergeant would’ve done that.”

Hweih disagreed.

“He’s supposed to help her, not kill her because she had a shovel,” Hweih told WFLA. “There were so many ways to address that.”

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