Hillsborough jail rescue video turns inmates into heroes

TAMPA — Half a dozen TV cameras lined a small conference room inside the Hillsborough County Jail on Thursday — all waiting to interview the inmates who saved a deputy's life three days earlier.

The shocking video of a prisoner sneaking up behind detention Deputy Kenneth Moon and choking him had been on the local news and all over the Internet since the Monday attack.

National media outlets had come calling — all the way up to the Oprah show — about the four inmates who joined the fracas in an effort to save the 64-year-old deputy, said Col. Jim Previtera, the jail's commander.

But when they shuffled into the conference room sporting their orange jail scrubs, scruffy beards and scratches, the four inmates didn't look like your typical heroes.

Jerry Dieguez Jr., 48, said his Marine Corps training took over Monday when he saw a prisoner rush up behind Moon and wrap his forearm across the deputy's wind pipe.

"It was an ambush, and instinct just kicked in," he said.

Dieguez, jailed on charges of home invasion robbery and opposing an officer without violence, launched a punch over Moon's head, striking his attacker in the face and taking all three men to the ground.

"I hit him with the hardest punch I could and an elbow to try to get him to let go," Dieguez said.

He said he'd always had a fantasy growing up about being a cop. So helping an officer, especially one as fair and well liked as Moon, felt like a dream come true.

"I just thank God I had the chance to do what was honorable and righteous," he said.

As the three tussled on the floor behind the desk, 34-year-old David Schofield grabbed Moon's radio from his desk and yelled "Emergency!" to draw more deputies' attention.

"It's all about respect," Schofield said. "I've been knowing Moon since 1994, and he always pulls me to the side to check on me and see what's going on when I come back. He's a very respected person and goes by the rules."

Hoang Vu, 27, and Terrell Cars­well, 38, both tried to loosen the attacker's grip on the deputy's neck until backup arrived.

"He had turned a whole different color from the neck up," Carswell said. "I was thinking about this is somebody's father and somebody's son and how nobody deserves to die like that."

Vu, accused of two counts of attempted murder and burglary, said through a translator that he "loved Moon" because of how kindly he had treated him and that he wanted to "take care of him."

Deputies identified the inmate who attacked Moon as Douglas Burden, 24, of Tampa. In jail on driving-under-the-influence and drug-trafficking charges, he now faces the added charge of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Minutes before the attack, Dieguez was handing out turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches to the other inmates in the pod — a part of his duties as a trusty.

Burden just looked at the sandwich, Dieguez said.

"Moon told him if he wasn't going to eat then he should go back upstairs to his room," Dieguez said. Then, Burden tiptoed behind the desk near the front door of the common area and grabbed hold of Moon.

"I had just pulled him off of somebody a month before this," Carswell said.

Carswell said he thought Burden had snapped because of mental problems and choked another inmate. "Me and Vu pulled him off the guy and then he went away," Carswell said.

Part of Carswell's affection for Moon comes from dealing with his own mental health problems, he said at the news conference.

Carswell is accused of trafficking in cocaine, armed home invasion robbery and failing to register as a sex offender. He said when he starts hearing voices, Moon can always spot the warning signs and tries to get him seen by a doctor.

"He treats us like a child or a son, and he's like a doctor to us," Carswell said. "He always tries to make sure you get your medicine."

Other men in the pod have said they were glad Moon was attacked, Dieguez said.

And there has been a certain amount of jealousy for all the attention the heroes of jail Pod 7-D are receiving, he said.

"People have been calling from all over the country asking to put money in their canteen accounts," said Deputy Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

Outsiders have also offered to buy the men a flat-screen TV for the jail pod, which has a common area designed to hold the 62 men with medical or mental health issues, Previtera said.

"The demand for the interviews had just been so high since we released the video," he added.

But the notoriety hasn't seemed to change the men's priorities.

Carswell left the news conference beaming.

"We're having fried chicken today," he chirped.

The excitement was palpable.

Reach Robbyn Mitchell at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

From right, David Schofield, 34, Jerry Dieguez Jr., 48, Terrell Carswell, 38, and Hoang Vu, 27, rescued a deputy who was being attacked by another inmate at the Orient Road Jail. “It was an ambush, and instinct just kicked in,” Dieguez said.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

From right, David Schofield, 34, Jerry Dieguez Jr., 48, Terrell Carswell, 38, and Hoang Vu, 27, rescued a deputy who was being attacked by another inmate at the Orient Road Jail. “It was an ambush, and instinct just kicked in,” Dieguez said.

Hillsborough jail rescue video turns inmates into heroes 11/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 8:54am]

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