Home News Marine sergeant sentenced for shooting friend in the head during ‘combat simulation’

Marine sergeant sentenced for shooting friend in the head during ‘combat simulation’

Neil Harrison Gallagher (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office )

Tony Marrero

Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA — A Temple Terrace man who fatally shot his friend in the head while the two were engaged in what prosecutors called a “combat simulation” is headed to prison.

Neil Harrison Gallagher, 26, signed an agreement last week to plead guilty to manslaughter with a weapon for the 2020 death of 22-year-old Eric P. Hansen. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella on Monday accepted the plea deal and sentenced Gallagher to 20 months in state prison, followed by 10 years of probation. He also must complete 250 hours of community service.

Gallagher faced up to 30 years in prison. According to his attorney, Anthony Rickman, sentencing guidelines called for a minimum of 124 months in prison — a little more than 10 years.

Both sides agreed that much time behind bars was not appropriate given the circumstances of the case and the fact that Gallagher does not have a prior criminal history, other than a DUI arrest.

“This was an accidental crime — a good kid who made a horrible mistake with no intention to hurt anyone,” said Grayson Kamm, a spokesperson for Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office. “These are the hardest cases to find the appropriate outcome in because there is considerable harm but zero intent. That’s why we tend to rely heavily on the wishes of the victim’s family.”

Kamm said Hansen’s family “is devastated by his loss, but they blessed this sentence because it balances punishment with allowing the defendant to eventually lead a productive life.”

Efforts by the Tampa Bay Times to identify and reach Hansen’s family members were unsuccessful Tuesday.

The shooting happened in the late afternoon of Feb. 24, 2020, at a home that Gallagher owns on the 100 block of S Burlingame Avenue in Temple Terrace. Hansen was one of at least three other housemates who lived there at the time.

Hansen and Gallagher were in Hansen’s bedroom acting out various simulations to determine who would win if they attacked each other, according to the state attorney’s office. Gallagher told police he retrieved the gun, a Glock 19, from his bedroom and took out the magazine, according to a search warrant affidavit. He believed he had cleared the weapon of ammunition.

In Hansen’s bedroom, the pair went over various defensive tactics, according to the affidavit. Hansen pretended to have a knife and attempted to stab Gallagher, who then drew the gun from his right pocket. Gallagher told police that when he started to lower the gun, it discharged accidentally, the affidavit states.

Hansen fell to the floor. Gallagher dropped the gun, which had a bullet shell casing lodged in the ejection chamber in what’s known as a stovepipe malfunction.

One of two other housemates who were home at the time rushed to the room and found Gallagher holding Hansen, who was bleeding from a wound to his cheek, according to the affidavit. The roommate called 911. Temple Terrace police arrived and found Gallagher cradling Hansen in his lap, applying pressure to the wound. Hansen later died at AdventHealth hospital.

Gallagher was arrested May 5, 2020, after the state attorney’s office filed the manslaughter charge, and was released on bail soon after that. A news release from Warren’s office at the time said that although there was no evidence that Gallagher had malice or ill intent, he showed a “reckless disregard for human life.”

Gallagher was taken into custody after he was sentenced Monday and booked into the Hillsborough County jail, where he awaits transfer to a state prison facility.

Rickman said that Gallagher and Hansen were friends for years and that Gallagher was distraught and remorseful from the moment the gun discharged.

“It’s a tragic situation and my client is so sorry for what happened,” Rickman said.

At the time of the shooting, Gallagher was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and part of an amphibious assault unit based in Tampa, Rickman said. He said Gallagher left the Corps Reserve on an other-than-honorable discharge.

Gallagher’s LinkedIn page at the time of his arrest stated he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in financial planning from the University of South Florida. Rickman said he graduated with honors and has been working as a construction consultant.

Rickman said Gallagher hopes to “make the best out of this really bad situation” by educating people about proper firearm safety.

“He’s going to have to live with the consequences of what he did, and my client does,” he said. “He has nightmares, he’s in therapy. He’s never going to get over what happened.”

©2022 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.