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Hernando deputy shoots Nature Coast football standout

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:29 PM

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There was no way Rich Reiter could have known when he stepped outside for a cigarette Wednesday night and heard Joseph Berrios, 18, shouting about "Nature Coast," that the teen would be bleeding on his front lawn within minutes under Deputy Ramona Fuhs’ drawn pistol.

"It sounded almost like he was on Landover," Reiter said, near Candler Avenue and Fortune Street. "I went back inside and my windows weren’t open at the time, and then I heard ‘pop, pop’ — two shots."

The sheriff’s office has declined to give details of the shooting because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling the investigation.

On Candler Avenue, where residents say Berrios was shot, and where the sheriff’s office says Berrios acted aggressively toward Fuhs, there are two pools and spatter stains of what appear to be blood within about 25 feet of each other.

"I went and got my phone and called 911, and said, ‘I think a cop just shot someone in my yard,’ and they said they were aware of the situation," Reiter said. "The cop was standing 10 feet away from my driveway and telling (Berrios) to stay down."

The Berrios name might be familiar to those who follow Nature Coast football. Berrios is a three-time All-County selection at inside linebacker for the Sharks football team, and led them in tackles as a sophomore and a junior, but did not play as much his senior year due to an ankle injury. 

The sheriff’s office said Berrios was transported to a trauma center with non-life-threatening injuries, and Fuhs also was transported to a local hospital and released after receiving medical treatment for undisclosed injuries.

Berrios has been charged with battery of a law enforcement officer, and his bond was set at $10,000.

Fuhs has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is protocol following use of deadly force.

Brooksville attorney and former county judge, Peyton Hyslop, said he will be representing Berrios for the battery on a law enforcement officer charge.

"I’ve talked with the mother and she had been called by her son’s friend at the house he was over at about four blocks away, saying, ‘You need to come over here. You’re son’s acting weird, something’s wrong,'" Hyslop said. "So she went over to that house and tried to get her son to come home with her but he wouldn’t, and he was telling her, pointing up at the sky saying, ‘(I) can see heaven; can’t you see it?’"

"Once he got well enough to go to school, he developed anxiety, and he was being treated and given anti-anxiety medication," Hyslop said. "And the doctor changed the medication to try to change things."

After Berrios’ mother tried to pick her son up, and saw his condition, Hyslop said, she called 911 for help. 

"She called 911 and explained, gave them her son’s name, what he was wearing," Hyslop said. "She mentioned his medical issues, and the pills he’d been prescribed. They were calling for help because he seemed not to be acting right."

"She was on the phone explaining that, and her husband had got in his car to go over (to where Berrios had left to) while she was on the phone with 911," Hyslop said. "Her husband told her, ‘Don’t come over here,’ because he’d been shot."

Berrios was shot twice, Hyslop said: one bullet entered Berrios’ leg and exited through his buttocks, and the other shattered his upper femur, which Berrios had to have surgery for in the trauma unit at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point..

Hyslop said that, prior to Berrios’ surgery, criminal charges had not yet been brought on him.

"They had allowed the family into the room, and they had been with him on and off over the night, and left around 7 a.m.," Hyslop said, adding that Berrios’ family went home for a change of clothes, and returned to Bayonet Point to see Berrios.

"And the sheriff’s office told the family he had been arrested, and weren’t allowed to see him before he went into surgery," he added.

Hyslop said Berrios’ mother is glad that her son wasn’t killed, and that the deputy involved was not injured, and is fine.

"I don’t have any ability to say what happened when the deputy got there, but I can say it’s very unfortunate in Hernando County when you call for help for your senior in high school, that he gets shot," Hyslop said. "He didn’t have a weapon apparently, because I’d assume if he did have a weapon, it wouldn’t be battery on a law enforcement officer: it would be aggravated or much more serious."

Across the street from where Berrios came to lie lives Michael Sibert’s cousin. Sibert said his cousin was on the phone with Sibert and his mother when the shooting occurred.

"She said the guy was doing a high school chant, and acting really weird," Sibert said. "She was upstairs and heard a gunshot, but before that she heard a bunch of yelling and noise, and thought her kids were acting up, and thought, ‘What are these, fireworks now?’" 

Then she walked outside and saw a female sheriff’s deputy pointing a pistol with a laser aimed at the young man’s head.

"I think she was standing up at that point, telling him to be still," Sibert said. "(My cousin) just wasn’t sure what was going on."

Neighbors confirmed there were upward of 25 patrol cars in the neighborhood. Across Landover in another neighborhood, Tabatha Foti said she and her husband saw patrol cars turn off Charwood Avenue and zip down Payton Street toward Landover.

"I think it was around 9:30, 10 o’clock, and my husband woke me up and saw about seven, eight cop cars flying down," Foti said. "I think there was an ambulance and it was overwhelming with all the lights, wondering what’s going on."

Fuhs has been employed as a Hernando County deputy since November 2011, according to the sheriff’s office, and the FDLE has taken over the investigation and will review the use of deadly force and provide updates. The incident also is under review by Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs.

Wednesday’s incident was the first officer-involved shooting in Hernando County since October 2012 when an off-duty Hernando County deputy and Tampa police officer shot and killed Inga Swanson after she pointed an antique gun at them while she was naked. Both officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.

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