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Friday, Mar 27, 2015

Deputy who shot teen cleared of wrongdoing


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A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation cleared a Hernando County sheriff’s deputy who shot an impaired 18-year-old Nature Coast Technical High student Feb. 27.

Deputy Ramona Fuhs shot Joseph Berrios, 18, twice in the pelvis, shattering his femur and prompting surgery. Berrios, through counsel, refused to provide a formal statement as to the events surrounding the shooting.

“My office has completed our review of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the shooting of Joseph Berrios,” State Attorney Brad King wrote in a letter to Sheriff Al Nienhuis. “After consideration, I agree with the conclusion and recommendation contained in the memorandum. Accordingly, this office will take no further action in the matter, except the continued prosecution of Mr. Berrios.”

Berrios is being charged with battery of a law enforcement officer.

The FDLE investigation indicates Berrios told medical personnel he had taken “Triple C” the night of the incident, which is a street name for Coricidin HBP Cold and Cough, a nonprescription medication taken with the hopes of feeling euphoria. A blood sample taken at the hospital was found by FDLE to contain chlorpheniramine and methorphan, both active ingredients in the medication.

Berrios and some friends went to a high school softball game earlier that evening. Before going to the game, friends report Berrios became distraught about family issues, was crying, and “emotional.” A friend reported that after the game Berrios smoked marijuana, which is consistent with Berrios’ blood results after the shooting, which contained the plant’s psychoactive compound, THC.

Berrios and a friend went back to the friend’s home. Once at the friend’s house Berrios again became emotional and was “acting weird.” The friend decided to walk with Berrios on his way home because he was concerned about Berrios’ emotional state. During the walk, Berrios began arguing with the friend and began punching him. After trying to calm Berrios down, the friend left and walked back to his home and called Berrios’ mother, concerned for his well-being.

Berrios went up to a number of homes, knocked on the doors and attempted to gain entry into at least one. Two of the homeowners called 911. Berrios’ mother drove up the street and attempted to get Berrios to come home, but he refused to get in the car.

Berrios’ mother returned home and called 911 and requested assistance from the sheriff’s office. She stated Berrios was on anxiety medication and hit her car, raising the possibility he may have to be Baker Acted.

Deputy Fuhs was one of the deputies dispatched, and first saw Berrios in the middle of the road in front of her car. He was pointing at her, she said, appearing to her as “ticked off” and walking “quickly” in her direction, saying something she couldn’t understand.

Fuhs stopped her car, opened her door and placed one foot on the ground. As she did Berrios continued to approach her “very fast,” the report shows, so she placed her other foot on the ground, stood up keeping the door between her and Berrios as a shield. She told him to stop, and according to the report Berrios said, “I’m going to kill you” and “lunged” toward Fuhs, pushing the car door against her and trapping her.

The report supported this with mention of Berrios’ palm print on the door frame of Fuhs’ car by the spotlight. Fuhs attempted to reach across her body and get her Taser, the report states, but she was pinned and could not reach it or her gun, and was unable to raise her arms to defend herself as Berrios began hitting her on the side of her head.

After Fuhs freed herself from the door she went to the back of her car, saying she commanded Berrios to stop and back off but “Berrios kept up his attack and continued to hit Deputy Fuhs … repeating that he was going to kill her.”

Fuhs, in fear that Berrios might grab her holstered firearm, pulled her weapon and fired two rounds into Berrios’ pelvis. Two expended cartridge casings from Fuhs’ firearm were found to the rear of her vehicle. Berrios eventually lay down, growling with slurred speech, and Fuhs drew her Taser to “cover” Berrios until other deputies arrived.

“Given the unprovoked and sudden nature of Mr. Berrios’ attack on Deputy Fuhs, his refusal to obey commands, his persistence in attacking her when she attempted to back away and his continued threat to kill her,” the report shows, “(Fuhs’) decision to use deadly force in response cannot be said to be unreasonable.”

Berrios’ charge indicates he was unarmed, and the report states there were no witnesses.

According to Berrios’ attorney, Peyton Hyslop, Berrios was Baker Acted last Thursday after a fire gutted Berrios’ Spring Hill home at 4251 Dristol Ave. Another report stated that witnesses saw Berrios and his grandfather leaving the home.

The fire was ruled accidental by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

(352) 544-5271

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