Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Cemetery owner's lawyer questions actions of trooper who shot his client

PINELLAS PARK — What's known about the increasingly mysterious Monday morning shooting at a Pinellas Park cemetery is this: The man who was shot, Clifford F. Work, owns the cemetery, was armed with a gun and has a concealed-weapons permit. The man who shot him, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel Cole, was at the cemetery before dawn tracking a signal from a LoJack theft-recovery system on a stolen motorcycle.

What's not known about the shooting is this: a lot.

Authorities with the FHP and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement remained tight-lipped Wednesday. Officials have filed no criminal charges and wouldn't say what prompted Cole — a 13-year patrol veteran with a history of violent confrontations — to pull the trigger.

Work's attorney, Todd Vargo, said his client did nothing to elicit such hostility.

"He acted in a totally reasonable and lawful manner," Vargo said. "I cannot make the same conclusion with respect to Trooper Cole's actions."

Vargo wouldn't expound.

"All I'm saying," he continued, "is we have grave concerns about his actions."

Work, who has no criminal record, is still at Bayfront Medical Center recovering from leg wounds. Vargo said his client wouldn't talk to the media before meeting with state investigators.

Until then, it seems, the details of that morning will remain unclear.

"That's the $64,000 question: What happened when the two of them came together?" said FHP spokesman Steve Gaskins. "I can tell you they were both armed, but beyond that? I don't know."

• • •

Cemeteries can attract dangerous characters, especially at night, so it's not unusual for owners to pack guns. Work, according to a former business associate, carried his gun in open view.

"He just carries it," said Kevin Cantrell of Cycadia Monument Co. "The way I understand it, he always carries this gun."

No one has said if Work, 48, of Tampa, pulled the weapon before being shot.

Troopers typically carry three guns in their car: a Glock handgun, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a AR-15 rifle. Officials would not specify which firearm was used in the shooting.

After the incident, Pinellas Park police executed a search warrant at the cemetery and retrieved the motorcycle from a shed on the property. Authorities wouldn't say if Work had any connection to the motorcycle or if it was related to the shooting.

Cole, 39, was placed on paid administrative leave for three days in accordance with FHP policy. He may return Friday but could opt to extend his leave. He could not be reached Wednesday.

The FHP is conducting an internal investigation.

"We don't shoot to kill. We shoot to stop," Gaskins said. "And only when the officer is in fear of serious bodily harm and or death of himself or another."

The FDLE investigation is limited to the shooting itself, not the events before, officials said. The agency will report its findings to prosecutors.

How long that will take is still unknown.

• • •

Cole began with the Florida Highway Patrol in November 1998, and his career has been noteworthy from the start.

He was named Pinellas' Trooper of the Year in 2000.

Since then, he has undergone 10 internal affairs investigations. Some were for minor issues, like driving errors or unsubstantiated complaints by people he arrested. Others, though, were quite serious.

In 2001, Cole shot a man in the hand during a traffic stop. The driver, authorities say, reached toward the car's floorboards, ignored repeated commands to show his hands, then made a sudden movement toward Cole. The man was unarmed.

Three years later, Cole and another trooper were suspended for not pursuing a DUI investigation against a Pinellas sheriff's deputy involved in a crash. Also in 2004, he helped save a man trying to jump from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Then, last year, Cole used a Taser to subdue a handcuffed woman, who fell and struck her head on an asphalt parking lot. She subsequently went into a coma. In that case, Cole's use of the Taser was ruled justified.

Like Work, the man whom Cole shot in 2001 says he has no criminal record and did nothing to provoke such violence.

Richard Allen Wilder, 47, was visiting Florida for the first time.

Wilder, a Christian minister from Fort Plain, N.Y., had gotten turned around on Ulmerton Road while looking for his hotel early one morning. After several U-turns, two troopers saw his broken tail light and stopped him.

The 1987 Plymouth Voyager lurched to a stop, and Wilder's wallet fell off the passenger seat. It landed among a sea of travel brochures. Wilder leaned over and groped the floor for his driver's license. He couldn't understand what the troopers were saying as they approached outside. His head lowered, he continued feeling for his ID.

In one swift motion, Wilder lifted the wallet to show the troopers. He saw a flash. Felt a jolt.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought they were going to shoot me again."

Wilder stumbled out of the car, and onto the ground.

"Oh my God," he said he remembers Cole saying. "What did I do?' "

Wilder was charged with failing to obey a lawful order and was fined. He didn't sue.

"When he shot me, I thought there must be a reason for this. It must have happened because God was trying to teach him something, so he wouldn't kill someone later on," Wilder said. "Obviously, he hasn't learned anything. I pray for him."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writers Laura C. Morel and Andrew Meacham contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

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