Acosta family and friends gather Monday to remember son killed by police

One of St Augustine’s largest local Minorcan families, with relations to several others, will gather Monday afternoon with extended family and friends for a celebration of the life of 28-year-old Dustin James Acosta; who died tragically on November 18, 2020, when he was shot and killed by two law enforcement officers.

A Gathering of Family and Friends will be held on Monday, November 23 at 3:00 p.m. followed by a Celebration of Life at 4:00 p.m. at St Johns Family Funeral Home, located at 385 SR-207 in St Augustine.

Historic City News has learned that Dustin was born in St. Augustine on April 13, 1992, to Bryant Acosta and Tracie Cline, who survives him.  Dustin is preceded in death by his grandfathers, James Acosta, and Teddy Cline, while survived by his grandmothers, Sylvia Acosta, and Patricia Cline.  McKenzie Anderson, Logan Anderson, Bryant Acosta (Shannon), Bryce Acosta, Dylan Acosta, Loui Acosta, Cameron Acosta, and Caiden Acosta, Dustin’s brothers and sisters, survive him; as well as his nephews, Wyatt Acosta, James Acosta, and Ryan Acosta, and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family.

Reanna Parham has organized a Go Fund Me page to help the family who is left with some substantial bills to pay.  The funeral-related expenses alone are pushing $5,000.  This death comes on the heels of two other deaths in the immediate family in recent months.

“Dustin Acosta was enormously proud of his Menorcan heritage, his hometown and his country,” Parham wrote.  “Dustin was a faithful friend with an infectious smile.  He was shot and killed by a city police sergeant and a rookie sheriff’s deputy Tuesday night.”

Parham stated that all donations will be used to help the family pay for funeral arrangements and help Acosta’s wife and daughter as they look for ways to cope with the sudden loss of income. 

“Dustin went out of his way to help others and we want to return the favor and honor him by coming together to support his family through this incredibly tough time,” Parham said.  “We know it means the world to Dustin’s family and it would have meant the world to him.”

One family member wrote:

Dustin was his mama’s hero.
Dustin never met a stranger.
Dustin was a free-spirited dare devil, spunky, and always happy.
He was a spokesman for the Patriots of St. Augustine and enjoyed fishing.
He was headstrong and stubborn at times, but you could always count on him to be there for anyone in need and to give the shirt off his back.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., November 17th, St. Augustine Police Department Sergeant Kevin Carroll, with 18-years’ experience on the job, was called to a disturbance at the Park Place Condominiums located at 1590 Masters Drive, in St. Augustine.  St Johns County deputy Kristapher James, who has only been on the job for one year, responded as backup to Sergeant Carroll.  This is the first officer-involved shooting event for each of the law enforcement officers. 

The facts of the fatal encounter cannot be verified by video, since neither department has issued body-worn cameras to their officers.  There were others inside the condo who witnessed the police actions immediately prior to the shooting.  They say that the police overreacted to Acosta, given his condition that night.  Apparently neither officer was trained in handling distraught, suicidal persons in crisis.

Although it appears true that a prior altercation occurred with residents who attempted to stop Acosta from driving away from his condominium, he reportedly was contained inside the residence, sitting at the dining room table in a chair facing the deputy and sergeant as they entered through the front door. 

Sheriff’s spokesman Chuck Mulligan said, “Upon arriving on scene, the officer and deputy announced their presence and entered the doorway of the residence where they found the suspect holding the handgun and acting in a despondent manner.”

Mulligan’s words seem to indicate that the officers knew Acosta was intoxicated and suicidal.  In statements forwarded to Historic City News from reliable sources at the scene, “Dustin placed the gun to his own temple 3 times, which should have changed the nature of the call to a potential Suicide.”

Those actions are widely accepted as a “plea for help” rather than a threat to others.  When observed, they generally call for de-escalation and calm in recovery of the firearm.  Two officers should have been sufficient force in a closed, well lighted, non-hostile environment.  Acosta’s handgun was loaded; however, he never fired a single shot, at the police or anyone else. 

One witness told local reporters, “Dustin was sitting in a dining room chair, 20-25 feet from the front door where the police stood and fired on him.  His back was to the sliding glass door, his body was slumped over the table.”

One statement described excessive force, saying, “Dustin was shot 3-times in the head, twice in the chest, and additionally in the abdomen.  At least five other shots were misses; hitting the wall, a wooden door, and the sliding glass door.”  Mulligan told reporters, “Acosta subsequently pointed the handgun in the direction of the officers, causing both the officer and deputy to discharge their service weapons.  The suspect was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

The St Johns County Sheriff’s Office has substantially said all they are going to say while they undertake the investigation of this shooting by one of their own deputies.  Many consider this to be a poor law enforcement practice, particularly for an outgoing sheriff who made national headlines in the New York Times for mishandling the investigation of another of his deputies who many believe got away with murder in the death of his girlfriend, Michelle O’Connell.

At autopsy, the 23rd District Medical Examiner’s office reports the manner of death as a homicide and the cause of death is a gunshot.  Neither of the officers was injured in the incident and each remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which is standard procedure.  The investigation is ongoing.

If you are planning to attend in person, the CDC Coronavirus guidelines provide that every attendee must wear a mask and the number of attendees may be restricted. We ask that if you are at elevated risk, feeling ill, or traveling from an area with an elevated level of infection, please do not attend the service. Those unable to attend can view the service live streamed.