The U.S. Marshals who shot him thought he was holding a gun. But Cory Tanner was holding a black bottle of Cadillac cologne in his right hand. He was coming out to face marshals who’d been commanding him to come out. Several described him as “charging” out. Numerous witnesses recalled hearing quick, running like footsteps and a sustained yell. The marshals at the door thought he was going to shoot them.
They shot him, two of them with .40-caliber Glocks, one of them with an M4 rifle. At least one of the marshals who fired his Glock thought that the sound of gunfire he’d just heard was coming from Tanner. Five bullets struck Tanner, one of them in the head. A sheriff’s deputy observed marshals back away and spread out as they fired. Tanner fell at the threshold of the back door. He was unarmed, just as his brother had told a law enforcement officer moments earlier outside.
That’s how, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigative summary of the case, Corey Tanner was killed on Aug. 13. The 56-page summary lays out the sequence of events, summarizes interviews with every law enforcement officer and witness at the scene of the shooting and some who had been involved in the hours leading up to the shooting. It includes interviews with paramedics at the scene, hospital personnel, the medical examiner’s report, a crime lab report and a list of evidence collected but does not reach conclusions.
Tanner’s mother, Brenda Johnson, told the News-Journal’s Tony Holt—who earlier today first reported on police video taken of the shooting—that she was considering a civil action against the police agencies involved. (R.J. Larizza, the state attorney, told the paper in January that his office had concluded the shooting was justified.)
Tanner that morning was at his brother’s house at 64 Espanola Road in Espanola, the impoverished and predominantly black hamlet where Tanner had sought refuge after police started hunting for him less than a month earlier. A convicted felon with a long list of charges to his name, he was wanted for a shooting in Bunnell that left a man injured on July 23.
It had been Tanner’s brother, John Johnson, who had told deputies earlier that morning that Tanner was at his house. The house had been under surveillance. When Johnson left in a Buick, he was pulled over by deputies on County Road 13. He agreed to return with the cops to the house on Espanola Road and talk his brother out of the residence, according to the FDLE report, but told police there were four children in the house.
The shooting took place about 10 minutes after marshals, Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies and Bunnell police officers had set up a perimeter around the house and began in turn commanding, ordering, urging and coaxing Tanner to come out, at one point drafting his brother on a speaker to urge him to come out. Johnson was handcuffed in a patrol vehicle during the operation.
Several marshals had taken up a position at a front door, which they eventually breached with a ram. Others took up positions at the back door, where the shooting took place. They started making their announcements to Tanner at 10:06 a.m. “Sheriff’s Office, we’ll send the dog in. Come on out, now,” one of the commands went. Soon after that, police notice movement inside and realize it’s children. They soften their commands and coax the children to come out, which they do. “Cory,” the voice of a marshal resumes, “U.S. Marshals, we know you’re in there and we’re not going away.”
The sheriff’s Cpl. Weaver brought his cruiser to the front of the house and announced on his PA system: “Cory Tanner, this is the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office with the U.S. Marshals, we have a warrant for your arrest. Come to the front door with your hands in the air and open it very slowly, do it now.” There was no response despite multiple additional commands. Then Johnson got on the PA system. “Cory, they got you this time man, come on man.”
It was as Weaver was voicing still more commands that shots rang out.
Almost immediately before the fateful moment, marshals had sent in a guided robot unit that piped live video back to cops outside. The robot made an “audible loud noise on the floor” of the house. It was at that moment that Tanner—who may have been startled by the robot—opened his bedroom door (a Marshal saw the door “fly open”) and come out pointing an object at one of the task force officers. Tanner, according to the officer, “came screaming and running toward the back door.”
All three marshals who fired their weapons described a similar scene. Deputy U.S. Marshal Joel McAllister thought Tanner was holding a gun. McAllister had heard a “sustained yell,” then heard Tanner’s footsteps “charging” toward him and other officers who’d taken up positions, arms drawn, at the back door. “I believed that he was going to take one of us out with him.,” McAllister said. McAllister fired his Glock 22, which fired at least one shot before jamming.
Task Force Officer Jeff Alvarez, who was handling the video monitor, the report states, “remembers a loud scream and a thumping sound from inside the house as if someone was sprinting toward them, followed by gunshots. After hearing the first shot, or shots, and seeing [deputy marshal Kenirey falling, Alvarez] dropped the monitor and moved at an angle past the northwest corner of the house to a position where he could see the back door. At that point, when he saw Tanner coming through the threshold of the door, TFO Alvarez remembers firing twice in Tanner’s direction as he was moving back and Tanner was falling.
Michael Pagliughi, a supervisory inspector with the marshal service, would describe the sequence of shots as “five or six gunshots which he described as three quick shots then two shots, with no real pause between them” according to the FDLE report.
Several sheriff’s deputies described similar scenes or sounds.
Sophian Bush, a neighbor and an eyewitness, told investigators that police knocked on the door of 64 Espanola and “begged” Tanner, whom she did not know personally, to come out. She estimated that sequence to have taken 20 to 30 minutes (though the investigation showed it less than that).
Another neighbor, Eugene Bush, watched the activity from a kitchen window next door. “Bush,” the investigative report summarizes, “observed a black male in his mid-twenties attempt to exit the back of the residence after ‘hitting’ one of the Marshals. Bush stated he heard the first shot before the black male made it to the back door. He believed the black male fired one gunshot before the Marshals returned fire. According to Bush, the first gunshot sounded as though it came from the interior of the residence. Bush stated the Marshals fired approximately two to three shots. Bush stated the black male subject fell to the ground after being shot.” The investigative report notes: “Mr. Bush’s account of the incident in regards to tear gas being deployed, a gunshot from inside of the residence, and Tanner hitting one of the Marshals, has not been corroborated by any other witness or physical evidence.”
After the shooting, Lt. Wayne Semenick and firefighter Robert Erett, with Flagler County Fire Rescue’s Unit 51, were waved to the scene by police. The report descriobes what happened next: “As they approached the residence located at 64 Espanola Road, Lt. Semenick asked an unknown officer where the patient was located and was advised ‘up that way.’ He was unable to locate the patient when he saw a second officer who directed him to the back of the residence. Before reaching the rear of the residence, he was stopped and waved off by a third officer wearing a tactical vest. The officer informed him “that’s not needed”, to which he asked, ‘is it that obvious?’ The officer replied ‘yes’ and they were ultimately cancelled.”
The medical examiner would find that Tanner had a “Through and through indefinite range gunshot injury to head with penetration injury of the brain,” another wound to the “right posterolateral thorax with penetrating injury of right lung, heart and left lung” and a “deformed hydro shock projectile” recovered from the chest, a gunshot wound to the right forearm, and superficial “ricochet-type” wounds to the lower chest and right arm.
The investigative summary states that Tanner was “believed to be a Crips Gang member, had repeatedly made threats to kill and/or harm others, to include law enforcement officers.” The summary also states that Tanner “is known to authorities and has an extensive violent criminal history.” Tanner’s court record, however, is not as extensive: In 2010, Tanner was convicted of a third-degree felony on a charge of selling or distributing an imitation substance. That was the most serious charge he was convicted of in Flagler despite numerous arrests.
He was convicted of trespassing, obstructing an officer without violence and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. Charges of battery on an inmate, domestic battery, criminal mischief, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, illegal possession of a firearm while a felon, loitering or prowling, were all dropped or dismissed. When he was killed, he was facing three felony charges, according to his docket in Flagler County court: attempted second degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated assault. (The FDLE investigation lists his charge as attempted first degree murder).
In her interview with FDLE, Mattie Verdell, Tanner’s girlfriend, said she’d last seen Tanner four days earlier when they’d stayed at a motel in Ormond Beach and he told her he wanted to turn himself in, but was scared and didn’t know what to do. He told her they had “a shoot to kill on him,” as he alleged that a cop named “George” of going around saying he was going to kill him.
Verdell said Tanner was bi-polar and had been taking his medication in jail, but when he’d get out, it was hard for her and his mother to get him back on it. Verdell said she’d never seen Tanner with a gun. He’d apparently spoken to his mother by phone moments before the shooting.
Just before his death, Tanner, 23, exchanged texts with his Verdell, with whom he had a child. “Dey here bae im sorry,” he texted at 10:14 a.m. Moments later, he texted: “I LOVE YALL WIT ALL MY HEART DNT 4 GET ME BAE”.
He was killed at 10:16.