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Hillsborough deputy dragged while trying to arrest felony suspect

TAMPA — A routine license plate check turned dangerous Thursday, officials said, when a man with four felony warrants attempted to escape arrest and dragged a deputy from his pickup.

The deputy had sought to stop the truck's driver from speeding away by reaching inside the cab to turn off the ignition.

In using that tactic, the deputy found himself in a predicament officers throughout the region have been in several times recently — being dragged down the road by a moving vehicle, sometimes at high speeds.

Deputy Byron Beasley, 40, was on patrol about 1:15 a.m. when he ran the tag of a Ford F-150 pickup in front of him. As the driver pulled into a gas station on the corner of Orient Road and Broadway Avenue, Beasley followed.

He called out the name of the owner: David Solano.

Solano, 48, responded and told Beasley he needed to get his wallet and ID, deputies said. But as Beasley walked toward the pickup, officials said, he heard Solano start the engine.

The deputy reached in the driver's side window to grab the keys, but Solano stepped on the gas. The truck began rolling, dragging Beasley, deputies said.

Beasley fired his gun as he dangled from the truck, officials said, and the bullet hit the truck's door. He eventually freed himself and Solano sped off.

Beasley was not injured.

Tampa police later found Solano's truck on 59th Street. Another officer saw Solano nearby, chased him and arrested him.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office doesn't have a policy about deputies reaching inside a vehicle. The office neither trains deputies to turn off the ignition to stop a car nor specifically tells them not to, said spokesman Larry McKinnon.

It's simply not addressed, said Lt. James Bradford, who trains Hillsborough deputies.

McKinnon said reaching inside a car is always risky and "generally speaking, we discourage them from doing that," he said, but it's not formally brought up during training.

Across the bay area, though, it has brought dangerous consequences several times.

In 2009, a woman closed her car window on a Hillsborough deputy's arm and put the car in reverse, pinning the officer between two cars.

In March, another Hillsborough deputy was dragged about 25 feet by a man suspected of buying drugs.

And in September, a state trooper tried to open the car door of a subject who had refused to get out of her car. As he did, the woman stepped on the accelerator and the trooper's arm became pinned in the window.

The trooper was dragged for nearly half a mile at speeds up to 50 mph, officials said. He was treated for minor injuries.

Perhaps the most notorious recent case was in May, when 21-year-old Brittany Elizabeth Miles escaped custody and dragged Pasco County Deputy Ashley Grady hundreds of feet across U.S. 19 before the deputy was slung off the vehicle.

Miles continued down the highway, eventually slamming into and killing a motorcyclist.

Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said nothing in the agency's policy forbids a deputy from reaching into a vehicle to try to grab the keys.

"It's a split-second decision," Doll said. "A deputy has to decide what to do when preventing someone from fleeing and oftentimes that can work. But it can be a dangerous move."

In the case of Grady, the deputy was suspended for five days for violating the agency's restraint procedures. But Doll said the internal investigation didn't question her decision to reach into the fleeing vehicle.

The National Sheriffs' Association doesn't have specific recommendations on the issue, said spokesman Fred Wilson.

The Tampa Police Department does address these scenarios. Spokeswoman Andrea Davis said it's covered in training.

Police union president Greg Stout said Tampa officers are taught to never reach inside a car, "particularly one that is running," he said.

They're trained to order a subject to turn off the engine and throw the keys out the window, he said.

During Thursday's episode, a police officer who chased Solano on foot suffered a leg injury. Solano also complained of neck pain afterward, deputies said, and both were taken to Tampa General Hospital for evaluation.

Solano was booked into the Orient Road jail on several violation of probation charges, as well as obstructing or opposing and officer with violence and aggravated fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer.

Records show Solano has been arrested several times in Hillsborough and has been convicted of cocaine possession; marijuana possession; habitually driving with a license that's suspended, canceled or revoked; burglary; giving a false name to an officer; and dealing in stolen property.

Beasley became a deputy in 2010 and hadn't used his gun while on duty until Thursday, according to the department.

He will be placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is under investigation, which is standard procedure.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

Hillsborough deputy dragged while trying to arrest felony suspect 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 11:11pm]
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