William Mechler has been a Tampa police officer only four weeks.
Now he’s on administrative leave after a bizarre incident Saturday in Hernando County where a naked woman was shot dead after a run-in with him and another off-duty officer at a gathering, police said.
Inga Marie Swanson, 42, was wearing no clothing and acting irrationally when she walked uninvited into a party at 9070 Orchard Parkway in Spring Hill, deputies said.
She was asked to leave, sparking a confrontation, and she eventually left the property. Swanson soon returned with a gun, deputies said.
Mechler, 26, and Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Detective Rocky Howard, 31, thought their lives were in danger, deputies said.
Both fired at Swanson, killing her, said Hernando sheriff’s Lt. Cinda Moore.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting.
Robert Collins, of Hudson, said he saw Swanson three times in a 40-minute span on the day she was killed.
Collins, 50, was driving on Suncoast Boulevard near Orchard Way in Spring Hill with a friend who wanted to buy property. He was the first to spot Swanson, who was walking naked on the dirt road.
Collins, who once was a security guard at the Caliente Tampa nudist resort in Land O’ Lakes, said the woman’s nudity didn’t faze him but he was worried about her. So he pulled his car over and asked whether she needed help.
“I’m a little bit confused,” he quoted Swanson as saying.
Collins asked her whether she lived nearby, but Swanson walked away, up the driveway of a house down the road, he said.
Twenty minutes later, Collins saw her again. She was standing on the side of the road and shouted, “Yes, I am an American,” and wandered off, Collins said.
The third and last time Collins saw her was when he was in a mobile home his friend wanted to buy. Swanson walked up to the door, brandishing a 10-inch-long metal crucifix.
She held it over her head and said, “This is the Antichrist. Let’s wrap this up.”
About an hour later, Collins said, he noticed yellow crime-scene tape and police cars blocking Suncoast Boulevard just east of Orchard Way.
“I was wondering if that had anything to do with the young lady,” he said.
He found out hours later, after watching the news.
“The thing that bothered me at the time was that it took two trained officers to subdue a naked woman?” Collins said.
Collins, a former law enforcement officer in New York, said he understands why Mechler and Howard would draw their weapons if Swanson had a gun.
“You have a split second to make a decision,” Collins said. “I feel bad for the young lady, as well as the officers. They have to live with that for the rest of their lives.”
Collins said he woke up Monday second-guessing his decision not to call for help for Swanson.
“Was there a way I could have foreseen this type of outcome?” Collins said. “Should I have called somebody? I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Howard, a six-year veteran of the Hernando Sheriff’s Office, also has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the FDLE investigation.
Mechler, hired by the Tampa Police Department on Sept. 28, was assigned to District 3, which covers parts of downtown Tampa and areas south of Hillsborough Avenue.
Before he started working in Tampa, Mechler spent four years as a patrol officer for the Dade City Police Department.
Mechler was a model officer, receiving several commendations for service and no disciplinary actions against him, said Dade City police Capt. David Duff.
Mechler is a graduate of Central High School in Brooksville and earned 18 credits at Pasco-Hernando Community College before working as a police officer in Dade City, according to his application.
He worked as a part-time lifeguard supervisor at Weeki Wachee Springs from 2002 to 2008, overseeing 60 employees.