Saturday, June 04, 2005

Six Deputies Cleared In Shooting

LABELLE, FL. -- State Attorney Steve Russell announced this week that the
Hendry County Grand Jury has cleared 6 Hendry County Sheriff's Deputies in
the shooting of Deana K. Hall after a traffic pursuit on September 22, 2004
in LaBelle. Ms. Hall survived her gunshot wounds.

The Grand Jury issued a report on May 31, 2005, which sets forth their
factual findings in the case, and their conclusion that the actions of the
deputies were legally justified. The report had been sealed under Florida
law until today.

The Grand Jury also issued an 8 count indictment charging Ms. Hall, 28,
with: 3 counts of Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer, and 1
count each of Aggravated Fleeing to Elude, Resisting an Officer With
Violence, Leaving the Scene of a Crash, DUI Causing Property Damage, and
Driving While License Suspended. Ms. Hall was taken into custody yesterday
by the agency that investigated the case, the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement. After first appearance Friday, Ms Hall is being held at the
Hendry County Jail without bond pending arraignment scheduled for July 11.

The Grand Jury issued this finding of the facts of the incident:

At approximately 6:30 p.m. on September 22, 2004, a large GMC Yukon SUV,
ran into the rear of a vehicle driven by Delma Gonzales. Ms. Gonzales'
vehicle, which was also occupied by her sister and niece, was stopped at a
red light, facing west, on SR 80 at the intersection with Bridge Street in
LaBelle. After the crash, the driver of the Yukon got out of her vehicle
and said something that Ms. Gonzales could not understand. The driver was
described as a female of either Hispanic or Indian descent. The driver was
observed to have an unusual or odd look in her eyes. The driver then got
back into the vehicle and drove away, turning north onto Bridge Street.
Ms. Gonzales reported the crash to the Hendry County Sheriff's Office, by
calling on her cell phone. Deputies, including Perry Short and Sgt. Jamie
Thorpe began arriving within minutes. The Deputies and Ms. Gonzales then
moved their vehicles off SR 80, and into the U-Save parking lot at the same
intersection, to continue the crash and hit-and-run investigation. The
Yukon was described as dark red or maroon, with flames painted on the
front, and Ms. Gonzales provided the deputies with the license plate number
that was observed.

One of the deputies was able to retrieve the driver license photograph of
the registered owner of the Yukon, but it was indicated by Ms. Gonzales and
the others in her vehicle that this person was not the driver who had
crashed into them. Shortly thereafter, the same distinctively-painted
Yukon was observed by Ms. Gonzales and the deputies heading south on Bridge
Street, then turning west onto SR 80. Several deputies began following the
Yukon, with the intent to make a traffic stop.

The driver of the Yukon refused to stop, despite being followed by several
marked Hendry County Sheriff's patrol cars, with lights and sirens
activated. One of the patrol cars, being driven by Sgt. Thorpe was
equipped with a video camera and recorder, which captured the images
beginning with the early stages of this pursuit, and continuing through the
end of this incident.

The Yukon continued westbound on SR 80, out of LaBelle for several miles,
at speeds in excess of the limit. At least six Hendry County Deputies in
addition to Deputy Short and Sgt. Thorpe became involved in the efforts to
pursue: Lt. Chad Schipansky, Sgt. Andrew Drew, Deputy David Gallegos, Det.
Steven Maldonado, Deputy Martin Meyer, and Sgt. Curtis Clay. The deputies
tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the Yukon while it was heading west. The
Yukon then made a U-turn across a grass median and began heading east on SR
80, retuning toward LaBelle.

The deputies continued their efforts to get the Yukon to stop, including
three attempts to deploy "stop sticks" designed to deflate the tires. The
Yukon continued to be driven dangerously and at excessive speed, at times
going completely off the pavement in attempts to avoid the "stop sticks",
and almost hitting a deputy at least once. The Yukon struck at least one
of the "stop sticks" but still failed to stop or significantly slow down.
As a result, the two driver's side tires ultimately went flat and broke
apart, yet the Yukon continued riding on the wheel rims. The Yukon
eventually crossed over onto the wrong side of the road, continuing east in
the westbound lanes. A sheriff's vehicle driven by Sgt. Clay got close to
the right side of the Yukon, trying to make it move over to the side of the
road and stop, but the two vehicles made contact and the left front of the
sheriff's vehicle got stuck to the right front side of the Yukon.

The larger and more powerful Yukon then dragged the sheriff's vehicle,
still without stopping. The Yukon then almost struck a westbound pickup
truck head-on. The Yukon then continued east, dragging Sgt. Clay's
vehicle, approaching the Shell gas station at Martin Luther King Blvd. A
PT Cruiser, driven by Patricia Nixon was heading west, and Ms. Nixon had to
take evasive action by backing up on SR 80 and around the corner onto MLK.
The Yukon, then turned left, onto MLK, still dragging Sgt. Clay, and headed
directly towards Ms. Nixon's vehicle. Ms. Nixon had to take evasive action
again, driving off the road to avoid being struck.

Once on MLK, Deputy Meyer was able to get in front of the Yukon and Sgt.
Clay, to again attempt to make them stop. Dep. Meyer's vehicle was struck
in the rear, and spun to the left, with the driver's side facing the front
of the Yukon. The Yukon quickly stopped, but struck the driver's door area
of Dep. Meyer's vehicle, and appeared to be wedged between Meyer's and Sgt.
Clay's vehicles. The other deputies, who were still pursuing, quickly
stopped around the vehicle, and thinking the Yukon had stopped, got out of
their cars and approached it intending to apprehend the driver.

Deputy Meyer's door was pinned shut by the front of the Yukon, and due to
the computer console at the center of the vehicle, he was unable to exit.
As the other deputies were approaching the sides and around the rear of the
Yukon, its engine began to rev loudly. Those behind the Yukon could see
the back-up lights come on. Deputy Meyer, who felt his vehicle starting to
be moved by the Yukon, and who may have thought he was going to be rammed,
tried to motion or signal for the driver to stop. At about this same
time, the Yukon suddenly lurched backwards, and appeared to partially rise,
apparently going over a door of one of the sheriff's vehicles.

Although the pursuit had lasted approximately 15 minutes, the final actions
all occurred very quickly, and the exact order is uncertain. As the Yukon
started to move, Deputy Meyer fired one shot from his .40 caliber Glock
pistol. At almost the same time, Lt. Schipansky fired 4 times, Sgt. Drew
fired twice, Deputy Gallegos fired 4 times, and Detective Maldonado fired 5
times, all using their .40 caliber Glocks. Also, Sgt. Clay fired twice
with a 12 gauge shotgun.

The Yukon finally stopped, and was secured by the deputies. The driver,
who was found to be Deana K. Hall, was the only occupant, and had been
struck several times by bullet fragments, shotgun pellets, and broken glass
caused by the projectiles. Medical attention began almost immediately, at
first by off-duty medics who happened to be nearby at the Shell station,
then by on-duty medics who transported her to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort
Myers. Ms. Hall survived her wounds.

Toxicology results from Ms. Hall's blood indicate that she had a .139 blood
alcohol level, and also was "positive" for cocaine, opiates, and

Efforts were made to protect and secure the scene of the shooting and the
weapons which were fired. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was
called in, and began their investigation the same evening. The FLDE
examined the crime scene and collected the evidence, and interviewed all
the deputies and other witnesses. The FDLE crime labs tested the evidence,
and reported the results. The shell casings recovered at the scene were
all identified as having been fired by one of the firearms described above
(except for one .45 caliber casing that cannot be tied to this case in any
way; no .45's were found to have been at the scene or fired in this
incident, and this casing may have been previously at the scene for reasons
unrelated to this matter).
All the projectiles were fragmented and/or damaged upon striking the Yukon.
Therefore, while such fragments were recovered from the Yukon, and from Ms.
Hall, no projectiles can be specifically matched to any of the individual
guns (other than the pellets and wadding , since only one shotgun was fired
at the scene).

FDLE interviews of all the deputies who fired their weapons indicate that
each believed that he, the other deputies, and other drivers on the road
were being placed in immediate danger of injury or death by Ms. Hall's
actions at the time they fired.

Ms. Hall was also interviewed by FDLE, and she indicated she had consumed
alcohol and cocaine, knew she had been in the crash at SR 80 and Bridge
Street, and knew that the deputies were trying to get her to stop.
Investigation by FDLE has also determined that Ms. Hall's license was
suspended at the time of this incident.

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