Riverview, FL — Ronald Ehrich, 88, retired from the Tampa police department in 1979 and has no criminal record, nor a history of mental illness. This month, Ehrich was set to turn 89 years old but because a welfare check turned sideways, that won't happen. Ehrich was gunned down in his home in December and now, the officer who killed him has been cleared.
After an "exhaustive review of all available evidence and applicable legal standards," the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office stated this week that the deputy's use of deadly force was justified.
According to Ehrich's neighbor, Angel Ortiz, he would check in on him from time to time at the request of Ehrich's daughter. Ortiz, 51, explained to the Tampa Bay Times that Ehrich was deaf and used double hearing aids and if he didn't have them in, “he had to read your lips.”
In December, Ortiz — after not seeing Ehrich for two days — made a fatal mistake and called the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office to conduct a welfare check. That sheriff's deputy would shoot Ehrich dead in his own home within five minutes.
Body camera footage was released showing the interaction that led up to the shooting death of Ehrich and, it appears that he likely didn't know the deputy who entered his home without his permission, was a cop.
“If he knew she was a police officer, he would have complied right away,” said Ortiz. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
As the video shows, Deputy Anastacia Castillo entered Ehrich's home through his garage and began shining a flashlight around while announcing "sheriff's office" multiple times during the welfare check.
She is seen, and heard, knocking on doors and walls and to a man who is hard of hearing and requires hearing aid, this could've likely sounded like someone burglarizing his home.
When Castillo finally confronts Ehrich, she asks him if he is okay before she grabs her pistol and points it at him, demanding that he "put your gun down!"
With a flashlight in his face and as Castillo is backing up, it is unlikely that he could have read the deputy's lips and figured out that she was doing a welfare check. At this point, Castillo retreats into another room and Ehrich begins giving orders of his own, indicating that he likely thought he was dealing with an intruder.
“I tell you what you do,” Ehrich says. “Come out into the open and sit down. Sit down or I’ll blow you right out of the ...” Ehrich is heard saying.
Castillo cuts him off, pleading with him from behind the wall, “Sir, I don’t want to do this. Please put the gun down.”
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Ehrich continues to mumble as he comes into the room in which Castillo is hiding.
"Ehrich responded that he was prepared to shoot her and continued to advance down the hallway toward the deputy. With his gun in hand, Ehrich stepped through the doorway into the room where the deputy had taken cover," the State Attorney's Office said in their justification.
“Where the hell are you at,” Ehrich says as he enters the room, seemingly looking for the home intruder.
As he turns the corner, Castillo put three rounds into him, killing him for a welfare check.
"After our thorough analysis, we have determined that the facts and evidence of this incident prove that the deputy reasonably believed she was in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm when she used deadly force. She also did not have a duty to retreat," the SAO wrote.
At the time, Ortiz said that he regretted calling the cops and wished he would have gone in himself to check on Ehrich. "That's what hurts," he said.
Adding to the tragic nature of this welfare check is that according to a statement released by the family, Ehrich had been out shopping the day before with his son — meaning the welfare check was pointless. Also, they found that he was not wearing his hearing aids.
"No one knew my father was a sane, kind, happy man who had a great life on his own terms," according to family’s statement. "No one knew he had family, friends and neighbors that loved him, and even if we did not see each other every day, we were in constant contact."
"No one knew that he had just been out with my brother the day before the incident and was looking forward to Christmas at my house," the statement continued. "No one knew he was invited to move closer so we could see him more, but chose to stay because he loved his house, as it was his connection to his wife that passed away."
"No one knew he was a heavy sleeper with 60% hearing loss and could barely hear even with his hearing aids - which were still on his nightstand at the time this incident," the statement read in part. "No one knew he needed glasses that he also was not wearing, and had even had some recent macular degeneration."
Sadly, police providing help during welfare checks often turns out to be anything but. As TFTP reported, an Arizona family learned the hard way what calling the police to help an elderly relative can often look like as their grandmother was hospitalized after a welfare check. Showing their incompetence, the welfare check was for another family member but the police assaulted the innocent grandmother anyway. Luckily for the 84-year-old grandmother, she escaped with her life after being thrown to the ground and attacked by cops. Ehrich cannot say the same.