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Hernando deputy cleared in shooting of high school football player

BROOKSVILLE — Prosecutors on Monday cleared a Hernando County sheriff's deputy of criminal wrongdoing in the February shooting of a Nature Coast Technical High School student.

The decision from Brad King, state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, was based on his office's review of the investigation into the shooting by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The student, Joseph "Joey" Berrios, 18, attacked the deputy, Ramona Fuhs, as she tried to leave her patrol car, the prosecutors' report said.

Because he kept attacking her and threatening her as she tried to retreat, the report said, it was reasonable for her to think that "her life was in danger and … to use deadly force."

The report gave this account of the incident:

Fuhs, 41, was responding to a call about an "irrational person" on the evening of Feb. 27 when she encountered Berrios, a standout football player at the school, standing in the middle of the street near his parents' home in Spring Hill.

As Fuhs tried to get out of her squad car, Berrios approached the driver's side, grabbed the door and hit her with it. When Fuhs got out of the car and tried to retreat, Berrios lunged at her and hit her head and shoulders repeatedly.

Fuhs continued to back away and turned to prevent Berrios from reaching her gun and, finally, fired two shots, hitting Berrios in the leg and buttocks. Fuhs was taken to the hospital with neck and shoulder injuries. She was treated and placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure after deputies fire their weapons on duty.

Berrios underwent surgery, and his parents posted bail before he was released from the hospital.

The state attorney's report also stated that earlier in the evening Berrios had attended a softball game at Nature Coast with friends. Witnesses said that he had seemed distraught about family issues, was crying and very "emotional." At some point after the game Berrios smoked marijuana and became increasingly erratic.

As a friend tried to walk Berrios home, he began arguing with the friend and began punching him until the friend left him. Berrios continued on, knocking on the doors of several homes and trying to enter at least one. Two of the homeowners called to report his behavior to the Sheriff's Office.

According to the report, Berrios told medical personnel that earlier that night he had taken "Triple C," a street name for a nonprescription medication that if abused, is said to cause hallucinations, convulsions and agitated behavior.

Berrios who does not have a criminal record, was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. His attorney, Peyton Hyslop, said he did not see anything on the report that was unanticipated.

Fuhs, who is in her second stint with the agency, has been a full-time deputy since November 2011 and returned to duty in March after Sheriff Al Nienhuis reviewed the FDLE investigation.

Chief Deputy Michael Mauer said the state attorney's report will be considered along with other documents as part of an ongoing internal affairs inquiry. He expects this to be completed by the end of the week.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Hernando deputy cleared in shooting of high school football player 04/29/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 9:23pm]

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