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Vet killed at MacDill was charged in 1994 with threatening official

TAMPA - Ronald J. Bullock had been involved in a domestic altercation. When officers arrived, he approached them menacingly, with a sharp weapon in his hand. He refused to back down until officers shot him with pepper spray. The March 12, 1994, scene in Austin, Texas, was eerily similar to what authorities say happened Wednesday night at MacDill Air Force Base. This time, though, Bullock was fatally shot by an off-duty FBI agent. Sixteen years ago, Bullock was armed with a meat cleaver, said Austin Police Cpl. Scott Perry, who was there that night. Bullock was later convicted of aggravated assault and resisting arrest.
Wednesday night, investigators said, Bullock once again approached a law enforcement officer with a sharp weapon. This time it was a knife. Thursday morning, Bullock's uncle, Phil Sullivan, described Bullock as a happy-go-lucky veteran who served in Vietnam and was "100 percent disabled" with post-traumatic stress disorder. Sullivan said he had no idea what happened at MacDill, where the FBI said Bullock was involved in a domestic incident at the base before lunging at an off-duty FBI agent. "This is a total shock," Sullivan said today. "I have been in a fog since the police knocked on my door at 1 a.m." Bullock, 61, was disabled and had lived at MacDill Air Force Base for six months, Sullivan said. Then he lived at Sullivan's home on Pearl Avenue for a month before returning to MacDill's Family Camp recreational area, where he was living at the time of the incident. The two had lunch before Wednesday's incident, Sullivan said. They had their usual conversation. "We talked about food, fishing and taking medicine," Sullivan said. "He was a fishing fanatic. He spent 25 hours a day fishing. And because of his disability, he took a lot of pills." Bullock served in Vietnam as a dog handler and received a couple Purple Heart medals, Sullivan said. He said Bullock used to drink and had hinted at taking drugs but had been clean and sober for at least 10 years. Bullock, who served four years probation on the assault charge in Texas, was also arrested Aug. 25, 1997, and charged with possession of a controlled substance, for which was convicted and served 18 months in the Texas state prison system, according to records. The arrests, said Sullivan, were a turning point for his nephew. "He joked about Texas and the arrest, because he always said to me, 'When I saw myself in handcuffs, that's when I decided to straighten myself out,'" Sullivan said. "He cleaned up his act. But he never gave me the details of his arrest.'' Bullock was a big man, about 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing 210 pounds, Sullivan said. "Didn't have a hair on his head," Sullivan said. He grew up in Randolph, Mass., a small town just south of Boston. Sullivan said Wednesday's incident was "totally out of character" for Bullock, who loved to ride his motorcycle when not fishing. Because he was an avid fisherman, it would not be unusual for him to have a knife, Sullivan said. Sullivan said he took a ride to the base today to try to find out more about what happened, but no one was around to talk to him. "I went to visit his trailer," he said. "It was surrounded by yellow tape. So was his truck, a Ford with six wheels." Now he is waiting to talk to Bullock's brothers and mother to find out where and when the final arrangements will be. An FBI shooting investigation team was expected to arrive Thursday in Tampa to find out whether the off-duty FBI agent who shot Bullock followed bureau policy, Tampa FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said. The base's Dale Mabry Highway gate, which was closed after the incident, was reopened early Thursday. The FBI typically does not release the name of agents involved in shootings, Couvertier said. Also, agents involved in shootings are not typically required to be assigned to desk duty during an investigation, a standard practice in most law enforcement agencies. Couvertier said those kinds of decisions are usually made on a case-by-case basis, depending on many factors, including the individual involved in the shooting. Couvertier said the FBI will be leading the investigation, with assistance from Tampa police and the base's Office of Special Investigations. The FBI shooting investigation team will "look at everything from A to Z," Couvertier said. Investigators want to determine whether the agent followed policy and whether the use of force was warranted, he said Couvertier said the agent "is involved is doing relatively well, considering the circumstances." Bullock was involved in a dispute about 6 p.m. at MacDill's Family Camp, a recreational vehicle area at the south end of the base, said Col. Larry Martin, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander. Bullock was living at the camp. Base security was called to the scene, and Bullock sped away on his motorcycle. He avoided the security personnel's attempts to stop him and proceeded toward the gate at Dale Mabry Highway, officials said. An FBI liaison who happened to be at MacDill assisted base security. He approached the suspect, who had ditched the motorcycle and was wielding a knife as he walked toward the FBI agent, officials said. The agent shot and killed Bullock just inside the Dale Mabry Highway gate, Couvertier said. Paramedics responded to the scene at around 6:45 p.m. and determined there was nothing they could do for the victim, said Capt. Bill Wade, a fire department spokesman. The case is not thought to be terrorism-related, Martin said, but he wouldn't confirm that it was a domestic incident. Dedicated in 1941, MacDill Air Force Base is located on 5,767 acres of land at the south end Tampa's Interbay peninsula. It plays an integral role in national security. It is home to Central Command and Special Operations Command, as well as the 6th Air Mobility Wing. It also is home to the 927th Air Refueling Wing and 50 other mission partners. Last month, the Dale Mabry Highway entrance was closed for several hours after a car damaged the gate when the driver tried to enter the base without authorization. A Dodge Intrepid approached the gate at about 12:45 a.m. April 19. Security personnel believed the driver was impaired and asked him to turn off the ignition. Instead, he reversed, striking a car behind the Dodge, and then continued through the gate. Security barriers stopped the Dodge, and the four occupants were detained.

Reporter Krista Klaus contributed to this report. Reporter Howard Altman can be reached at (813) 259-7629.

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