TAMPA — Deputy Kenneth Moon sat at a desk Monday while 62 prisoners finished their lunch in a pod at the Orient Road jail. Suddenly, an inmate rushed him. There was no time to react.
Before Moon knew it, the inmate had him in a choke hold. Moon couldn't reach his radio. There were no other guards in sight.
Other prisoners in Pod 7-D swarmed. Jerry Dieguez, accused of a home invasion, threw a punch that leveled the attacker. David Schofield, accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery, grabbed the radio and yelled out: "Emergency! Emergency! Emergency!"
Others piled into the fray of orange jail uniforms, pulling Moon, 64, to safety. He stood stunned, face purple from a hold authorities say could have crushed his trachea and cut off blood supply to his brain.
"If left on long enough, it certainly could have killed," Col. Jim Previtera said on Wednesday.
His rescue came because of the relationship the mild-mannered Moon had built with the men he guards, Previtera said. The 22-year jail veteran avoids jail gossip, treats everyone the same and rides Harley-Davidsons on his days off, fellow Deputy Anthony Brown said.
Moon worked his 12-hour shifts alone in the pod known as "7 Delta," which holds men with medical or mental issues.
He works amid the prisoners unprotected by bars and doors much of the time as part of the jail's "direct supervision," which fosters closer relationships between inmates and deputies.
Jail attacks on Hillsborough deputies have declined from 76 in 2006 to 22 this year partly because of the system, Previtera said. Juvenile offenders attack guards the most and are supervised by more than one officer, sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.
Inmates with disciplinary problems or histories are confined to cells. Deputies identified Moon's attacker as Douglas E. Burden, who spent time in 23-hour-a-day confinement last week after he fought an inmate, jail officials said.
Burden, 24, of Tampa, has been in jail since March on charges of DUI and trafficking in phenethylamines and illegal drugs. Battery on a law enforcement officer has been added to the list.
A judge ordered him to undergo competency and psychiatric evaluations. Those evaluations landed in his court file on Wednesday.
Jail officials say they don't know what set him off. At lunch, Moon noticed that Burden hadn't touched his plate of roast beef and potatoes, so the deputy told him to eat or return to his cell.
Deputies said that some time passed before the 5-foot-4-inch, 160-pound prisoner shot into Moon's station and attacked.
Inmate Dieguez arrived an instant later, landing a punch that floored both men. Then he went down with them, struggling to unravel the choke hold. Other rescuers included Terrell S. Carswell, 38, a sex offender facing several charges, including home invasion and armed cocaine trafficking, and Hoang T. Vu, 27, who is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and other charges.
"Their past acts aside," Previtera said, "you have to applaud them."
Previtera said he met with the inmates who rescued Moon on Wednesday and thanked each. He told them he would write letters to their attorneys explaining what the men had done for Moon.
He said he was bound by law from giving the inmates any other sort of gifts. But if the letters are used in their court cases, that was fine by Previtera.
"We're certainly happy that somebody did step in to help," said Assistant Public Defender Christopher Watson, whose office represents all the men involved. He declined interview requests for the men.
Moon, who was treated and released from a hospital with bruises and scrapes near his eye, on his cheek and forehead, also declined to speak publicly.
Jail officials say he followed every protocol. Panic buttons aren't available at Moon's work station because he had a handheld radio. More than 10 deputies responded to the scene in about 30 seconds.
Until then, the only thing Moon could do was "survive," said Deputy Brian Rogers, in charge of detention officer training.
"There is no procedure for a surprise attack," he said.
Previtera and Sheriff David Gee are reviewing the attack to see if changes need to be made to supervision and safety guidelines.
"I'm going to look at this hard," Previtera said.
The video of the attack will be used as a training guide, he said.
But the most important safety tool detention officers have is dialogue and communication, jail officials said.
The inmates got to know Moon, and he got to know them.
"Somewhere in their hearts there must be some goodness," Brown said.
Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.