The parking lot of the Flagler County courthouse was the scene of a tense encounter Tuesday afternoon between sheriff’s deputies an d a young man in a car who appeared to have a gun, and who was looking to die in a suicide-by-cop situation, according to his mother.
He did have a gun, but it proved to be a realistic-looking toy gun, and by the time the encounter was over, in a matter of minutes, deputies had controlled, defused and ended the standoff without a shot fired, and the man, 21-year-old Darnelle Hyppolite of Wellwood Lane in Palm Coast, was secured then Baker Acted. For sheriff’s deputies, it was the latest in about a half-dozen incidents in the last four years between seemingly or actually armed individuals and cops who manage to end the stand-off calmly and safely.
“This situation could have ended tragically,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a release. “Our deputies showed great restraint in de-escalating the situation instead of engaging the subject. This emotionally disturbed person may have been seeking to end his life. Our deputies did exactly what they were trained to do and I am very proud of them.” Deputies say the man did not enter the courthouse and there was no threat to those inside.
The incident at the courthouse unfolded at 2:15 p.m. Jeffrey Puritis, a sheriff’s deputy and a bailiff at the courthouse, was on foot in the west-side parking lot of the courthouse when he saw a black Nissan SUV pull up near him, by the stairs that lead to the plaza in front of the courthouse.
“It appeared that the occupants were in a verbal argument,” Puritis reported. He was referring to Hyppolite, who was in the passenger seat, and Armelle Edouard, his 55-year-old mother, who was driving. “I approached the vehicle’s driver[‘s] side and asked the driver if she needed assistance. [Edouard] stated that [Hyppolite] had a gun and wanted to die by suicide by cop. I then unholstered my service weapon and told both occupants to show me [their] hands. A balled up shirt was observed on the male’s lap. He had his right hand under the shirt.”
The deputy recognized Hyppolite because of previous encounters, Hyppolite having been arrested several times on non-violent charges and appearing in courthouse proceedings as a result.
“Darnell told me he was going to pull the gun out,” Puritis reported. “I asked Darnell numerous times not to do that, and to put his hands in the air. Darnell put his hands up and then back under the shirt numerous times while stating that he was going to pull pout the gun. He told me I’d better watch out.” Hyppolite’s mother “then shouted that Darnell told her numerous times earlier that he wanted to die suicide by cop and she thought the gun might be fake. ”
It’s not clear at this point where the deputy is standing—if immediately next to the car, or, as indicated by video footage of the incident, already behind a patrol car just to the west of where the SUV had stopped. Similar situations have been documented elsewhere in the country, ending in shootings, usually of the individual believed to be armed. Puritis, however, showed restraint and retreated: I took cover behind a patrol vehicle which was parked nearby,” he continued. “I then observed a black handgun being tossed out the driver’s window. Multiple units arrived on scene at this time for back-up.”
When the footage begins, the Nissan is stopped in the middle of a lane in the parking lot, between the row abutting the complex and the first row of parking spaces. Puritis is seen running away from the Nissan’s driver’s side, his gun drawn, toward the courthouse. Edouard is seen struggling to get something from the glove box or the passenger-side door for several seconds, then then lowers her window and tosses out the object—the gun, addressing Puritis.
All the while Hyppolite is in the passenger seat, his hands apparently above his head or behind his head. His mother alternately speaks to him and to the cop, then both are seen with their hands raised. The camera then switches angle, showing two patrol cars speeding into the parking lot. When the camera pans back to the Nissan, Hyppolite is outside the vehicle on the passenger side, his arms raised in the air, then crossed behind his head as he walks slowly behind the car. By then Edouard is no longer in the car or in view of the camera. Moments later Hyppolite is apprehended and handcuffed face down on the ground.
Deputies slowly approach the car, guns drawn. As one deputy inspects the car, another stands behind the car on one side, pointing his gun at the car, another points a shotgun from the other side of the car. When they ensure that no one is left in the car, guns go back in their holsters, and several other deputies appear, some of them with rifles. Eight minutes in, a deputy drives the vehicle away from the center of the lane. The 21-year-old had been walked down to the southwest corner of the parking lot, where he leaned against a patrol car with one plainclothes individual near him.
Clearly, the situation by then had not only been defused, but bore none of the signs of a graver situation: as he is led away, Hyppolite is almost casual in his gait, and only one deputy escorts him, without force. But the situation had not lacked for gravity earlier: “It was determined that Darnell did attempt suicide by cop and was subsequently placed in custody under a Baker Act,” Puritis reported. The Baker Act gives deputies the authority to forcibly seize an individual for psychiatric evaluation at Halifax hospital’s psychiatric ward for up to three days, even if it’s against the individual’s will.
For sheriff’s deputies, it was the second peaceful resolution of a suicide-by-cop situation in 18 months, albeit by a different crew of deputies. In September 2015, deputies resolved a situation involving a P-Section resident, Stacy Culotta, who had pointed what turned out to be a BB gun at three deputies. The deputies were not aware it was a BB gun at the time. Culotta was subsequently placed on probation. Last November, just days after being released from a psychiatric facility after yet another suicide attempt, she killed herself with a gun she found in her mother’s bedroom.
Just three weeks ago Hyppolite was found guilty of battery on another inmate while he was at the county jail, and sentenced to time served. He hadn’t actually physically assaulted an inmate. He had thrown “a fluid-like substance” at him while he was mopping the floor in front of Hyppolite’s cell. Recent retail and grand theft charges against him were dismissed except for one charge of grand theft that led to a judge withholding adjudication.