Identities of undercover Hillsborough deputies involved in fatal shooting won't be disclosed

The undercover officers won't be identified after the slaying of a suspect during a struggle.
Published January 10 2013
Updated January 11 2013

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office won't release the names of the three undercover deputies involved in the fatal shooting of a drug and robbery suspect Wednesday, but did offer some insight into the detectives' careers.

Firing on 31-year-old Robert Gary Jr. at an apartment complex near University Mall was the first line-of-duty shooting for any of the three detectives involved, the Sheriff's Office said.

Between 2003 and 2004, one detective was disciplined three times for failing to respond to a subpoena, including two one-day suspensions. The deputy received a letter of reprimand after causing damage or loss in an "avoidable traffic crash," sheriff's spokeswoman Samara Sodos said.

Another detective received a letter of reprimand in 2004 for failing to respond to a subpoena.

The Sheriff's Office declined to name the detectives involved because of their undercover work, Sodos said.

The three were investigating crack cocaine sales near 122nd Avenue and 15th Street about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday after receiving complaints from residents.

Detectives arrived at Cinnamon Cove Apartments, 12401 N 15th St,, where one of them, posing as a crack cocaine buyer, tried to make a transaction with Gary, Sodos said. On Tuesday, detectives had also met with Gary for a drug transaction.

During Wednesday's deal, Gary tried to rob the undercover detective, she said. A scuffle broke out in an outdoor stairwell, she said, where — at some point — the men began to struggle over the detective's gun.

The gun fired several times. It remained unclear Thursday whether the detective or Gary were hurt by that gunfire.

The two other undercover detectives saw the struggle, identified themselves as deputies, and told Gary to release the gun, Sodos said. But Gary refused.

Fearing that the detective in the stairwell had been shot, they fired at the suspect. Gary died.

Two small packages of what appeared to be crack cocaine were found nearby, the Sheriff's Office said.

The detective involved in the altercation was taken to Tampa General Hospital after he fell down the stairs. He was released Wednesday night.

On Thursday, detectives were still surveillance video from the complex and on the street. Investigators did not disclose how many times Gary had been shot.

People in the neighborhood mourned the man they called "Baby Robert." The 5-foot-2 Gary had served four prison terms on drug and theft convictions and was most recently released in August. Family members described him as non-violent, quiet, timid and dedicated to family time. He used to spend time sitting in chair in front his sister's home on the corner of N 15th Street and E 122nd Avenue.

"I saw my brother sitting out there and I told him 'Be careful,' " said Lizzie Gary, 29. "It's bad out here. The cops even stopped me a few days ago because they thought I had something on me."

All three undercover deputies were placed on administrative leave pending an internal review, which is standard policy.