TAMPA — Despite a less-than-perfect investigation, jurors found DeAndre Jamal Wallace guilty Thursday of shooting Hillsborough sheriff's Detective Christopher Baumann after an undercover training session turned violent.
Wallace, 19, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer when he is sentenced May 8.
"It's very difficult for a jury to overcome the fact that a police officer got shot," defense attorney Ronald Kurpiers II said after the verdict.
But the defense put up a fight.
In his questioning of witnesses and his closing argument Thursday, Kurpiers picked apart the investigation into who shot Baumann on April 28, 2007, in Progress Village.
Baumann, a 10-year veteran, had gone to the neighborhood to teach undercover trainees how to make drug buys on the street.
The trainees spotted a heavyset teenager with a snarling face and a gun during a drug transaction and notified Baumann, who along with a fellow veteran detective decided to seek out the individual.
They found Wallace near 5206 82nd St. S and identified him as their suspect. Baumann started searching his pockets.
That's when a bloody, full-out brawl ensued. Baumann and Wallace punched each other, Wallace bit Baumann's hand, and the detective threatened to "blow (Wallace's) brains out" if he reached for Baumann's gun again.
Baumann gave his gun to Detective Tracey Balogh to avoid a shootout. Seconds later, he felt a bullet burning in his chest, then another in his back.
Balogh returned fire, hitting Wallace. Wallace and Baumann each have a bullet still lodged in their bodies.
With Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee and many of his deputies sitting in the courtroom Thursday, Kurpiers accused the undercover deputies of a "rush to judgment." He said they had been drinking beers as they drove the streets of Progress Village looking for drugs and were too impaired to know for sure whether Wallace fired the shots at Baumann.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office policy allows deputies to consume alcohol during covert operations as long as they maintain less than a 0.05 blood alcohol level.
Under Florida law, a driver is presumed legally impaired if he has a blood alcohol level of 0.08. Baumann and his fellow deputies, who said they used beer as a decoy and only had a few sips each, weren't tested for their consumption level and never told investigators they had been drinking.
After the verdict, the sheriff dismissed the talk of alcohol as an attempt to distract jurors.
"Any time you're hanging with the bad guys, you've got to act like the bad guys," Gee said.
No fingerprints tied Wallace to the .25-caliber pistol believed to have been used in the shooting, but investigators found gun residue on his hand. And Baumann testified that he was certain Wallace was the shooter.
"This wasn't a booze-filled picnic," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said. "It is this defendant who fired two shots at an unarmed deputy. Talk about outrageous behavior."
After two hours of deliberation, jurors also convicted Wallace of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, carrying a concealed weapon, obstructing officers with violence and improper exhibition of a firearm.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.