TAMPA — With a crowd of uniformed deputies supporting her in court Tuesday, a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy faced her assailant for the first time since he shot her three times in September 2011.
Deputy Lyonelle De Veaux arrived at a Town 'N Country apartment complex that Friday night to investigate claims that Matthew Buendia was beating his girlfriend. But, oddly enough, Buendia asked if she was there to help find his missing dog, she testified.
A minute later, Buendia pulled a gun from his waistband and fired about nine shots at her, De Veaux said.
Buendia, then 24, did not understand what he was doing, defense attorney Mark O'Brien said at a hearing Tuesday as he fought to get bail for Buendia. The former U.S. Marine has been held without bail in solitary confinement since his arrest. Tuesday was the first time the defense has argued for Buendia's release until his March trial.
"This is not an individual who went out to kill a police officer," O'Brien argued. "Instead, what we have here is a very wounded individual."
Buendia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was taking a potentially dangerous combination of psychotropic drugs and pain medication after combat deployments to the Middle East, his attorney said.
Buendia was in a dissociative state when he shot the deputy, O'Brien said, which meant he did not understand what he was doing.
The defense brought in a psychologist who had spent about 15 hours evaluating Buendia. Ernest Boswell has spent his career working with veterans, and he testified that Buendia had a severe form of PTSD and was not getting appropriate care from his U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.
Buendia's doctors prescribed more than a dozen medications without communicating with one another. A pharmacology expert, Daniel Buffington, testified on Tuesday that the VA's rapid pace of adding and subtracting medications each month was done in a "cavalier or reckless manner."
Boswell recounted a couple of previous dissociative episodes that Buendia suffered.
"I believe he did not mean to commit a crime on Sept. 30," Boswell said. "I don't think he understood what was the role and function of Deputy De Veaux. I don't think he understood what was taking place."
A prosecutor argued the opposite was true — that Buendia showed he understood that he was likely going to jail for beating his girlfriend and was trying to avoid that fate. Assistant State Attorney Anthony Falcone said Buendia is dangerous and asked that Buendia continue to be held without bail.
After about four hours of testimony and argument, Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta said that both sides brought good arguments. But when it comes to bail, the judge said he must focus on the events that Friday night — not Buendia's medical and military history.
The judge denied bail.
"The defendant is charged with a dangerous crime," Ficarrotta said. "The facts show he poses a danger to himself and the community."
The group of about a dozen deputies in the courtroom was visibly pleased. O'Brien later said the outcome "was not unexpected."
"What's important is that people learned more about Matthew Buendia and what he went through. He is not a Dontae Morris," the attorney said, referring to the Tampa man recently convicted of murdering two police officers in 2010.
O'Brien is hopeful about the trial in March.
"There's a big difference between a judge and a jury," he said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.