LAKELAND, Fla. - A 60-year-old Polk County man was “exceptionally distraught,” possibly over the death of his wife, when he forced a Polk deputy to shoot him Friday morning, Sheriff Grady Judd said.
It was around 10:30 a.m. when Kenneth Layton called 911 to report a man with a gun lurking outside his Saddlehorn Drive home, Judd explained. While dispatchers worked to keep the hyperventilating man calm, they could hear the deputy arrive at the house, then shouts of “put the gun down.”
According to Judd, 15-year veteran deputy Chad Nichols had been met at the door by Layton, who was armed with a handgun and was pointing it at the deputy.
Nichols slowly backed out while ordering Layton to drop his gun. When he got back to his patrol car, Judd said Layton again pointed the gun at the deputy, who fired one shot, killing the 60-year-old.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a classic, classic suicide by cop,” Judd offered.
According to the sheriff, Layton’s wife succumbed to cancer two months ago. At Thanksgiving dinner with his neighbors, he had reportedly talked about how much he missed her.
After the shooting, Judd said, Layton’s son told investigators that he had feared his dad would hurt himself because he was so distraught.
"If, in fact, his wife died two months ago as reported to us, this is his first Thanksgiving without his wife," Judd said. "The emotion of it overtook him, it appears."
Judd praised Deputy Nichols for remaining calm and doing what he could to defuse the situation, even as it became “abundantly evident” that Layton was going to force Nichols to fire.
"Chad Nichols took way too many chances in this case. Because he didn't want to have to shoot this man," Judd continued. "Deputy Nichols went above and beyond and took extra risks to his life to avoid having to shoot."
There never was a suspicious person, investigators say.
“I am sorry for Mr. Layton and his family,” Judd added. “I’m sorry he put himself in that situation. I’m sorry he didn’t allow us to help him.”
If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text 741-741. See here for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.