NEW PORT RICHEY — Anthony Stinnett doesn't figure as a friend of the law.
His arrest record stretches back to the mid-1990s, when he went to prison for four years on a slew of charges, including burglary, grand theft and resisting an officer with violence. His most recent arrest was for DUI last year.
"I've always been a little down on myself," he said. "I was the bad guy."
But last week he turned around. He said he saw the light early the morning of Jan. 4 when he saved a deputy's life.
Stinnett, 35, said he, his fiancee, Sasha, and her 15-year-old brother were the only ones in the parking lot at a 7-Eleven on 6926 Little Road when the deputy's patrol car pulled in about 1 a.m., a loud thump coming from somewhere.
It sounded like the car had a flat tire.
The deputy parked. More thumping. Then glass exploded from the back of the car. Osvaldo Flores, 30, erupted "like a bullet" from the broken window and came straight at Deputy John Brown, Stinnett said.
Stinnett watched while the two men struggled. Reports say Flores punched and kicked the deputy. Then, Stinnett said, he saw Flores loop his handcuffs around Brown's neck and pull. Stinnett said he didn't have time to think. He ran across the parking lot. He grabbed Flores' arms to pull them away, but he says Flores was strong. Eventually, he pried the cuffs from Brown's throat. Stinnett said Flores got up to run but he tackled Flores by the legs. He and the deputy held Flores to the ground and waited for backup.
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Flores was first arrested earlier Jan. 4 on charges of possession of marijuana and violation of a domestic violence injunction. En route to the jail, reports state, Flores told the deputy he wasn't going back to prison. In the back of the patrol car, he wriggled the handcuffs to his front and started stomping the windows, causing $1,000 damage. Brown pulled into the 7-Eleven parking lot to stop him, but it was too late.
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After more deputies arrived to control Flores, the deputy went inside the gas station to wash his face. Stinnett walked inside, too, to buy the 2 liters of Mountain Dew and Coke he had come for. He said the deputy thanked him in the store.
Stinnett described the incident to reporters Thursday at his house, which is so close to the Sheriff's Office it can be seen from his front yard. While he talked, he tinkered under the hood of the black 1970 Ford Galaxie 500 Phantom he bought with his money from restoring houses. He acknowledged his previous run-ins with deputies but said he's trying to put those behind him.
"I wasn't always a big fan of the law," Stinnett said. "I didn't even see him as an officer. I just saw him as a human being in trouble."
Flores, still in jail, declined an interview request from the Times, as did Brown. Sheriff Chris Nocco told reporters last week that Flores was lucky to be alive after trying to kill a deputy. Flores is charged with attempted murder, escape and criminal mischief.
"I think it's safe to say," said sheriff's spokeswoman Melanie Snow, "that if Anthony Stinnett had not intervened, the situation could have been much worse."
The Sheriff's Office has scheduled an award ceremony next week where deputies will be honored. Nocco plans to recognize Stinnett and reunite him with Brown. Stinnett said the recognition has given him self esteem. That it feels good to be good.
Stinnett will also likely testify as a witness when Flores goes to court. Hearing that, he smiled sheepishly.
"I guess I'll be on the other side of the podium," he said. "Ha!"
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.