State Attorney's report on Hydra Lacy shooting clears officers; praises their heroism

ST. PETERSBURG

The basic facts of Jan. 24 are seared into the community's soul.

A St. Petersburg police officer killed in a shoot-out with a wanted man hiding in an attic. Another killed trying to rescue the first. A wounded deputy marshal who survived the siege that ended with the death of Hydra Lacy Jr. and the razing of the bright orange house where it all happened.

But Thursday, after investigators worked for a month, the public learned what really happened inside the house that day — the acts of deception and evil, and of selflessness and heroism.

The investigation shows how Lacy tricked police into thinking he had given up, then turned and shot an officer in the head. It shows the immense peril officers faced as they rushed in to rescue their wounded comrades while bullets rained down, and how one man reached up to the attic to try to grab Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, even as Lacy waited with loaded guns. It shows how detectives offered to give themselves up as hostages in exchange for the wounded officer.

The report from Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe concluded that the 10 officers who fired at Lacy were justified in shooting and killing him. That was not unexpected, considering Lacy shot and killed Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and wounded Deputy Marshal Scott Ley. McCabe also determined that Lacy shot the three men using his own 9mm gun and Yaslowitz's weapon.

The report, along with hundreds of pages of interview transcripts of officers at the scene and the suspect's friends and family, creates the most complete and riveting account of that day's confusion, deception, terror and sacrifice.

Most of it, Mayor Bill Foster had already learned, but one detail was new: that Lacy had moved Yaslowitz's body over the attic opening, apparently using him as bait to lure more police officers to their deaths.

"That's horrific," Foster said. "And yet I found solace in the facts that highlighted the bravery of these officers that went in to rescue the injured, to get their brothers out.

"There was indeed a lot of heroism and courage displayed throughout the incident. It's incredible."

• • •

The day began at 7 a.m., when Deputy U.S. Marshal Scott Ley, a St. Petersburg detective and a Pinellas County sheriff's detective went to 3734 28th Ave. S to question Christine Lacy about her husband's whereabouts.

Such teams are often used to hunt dangerous fugitives. Hydra Lacy Jr., 39, had already served two stints in prison and had failed to show up for court on aggravated battery charges. He was on the lam and telling people he would not go back to prison.

The team had questioned Christine Lacy before and found she could be evasive. This time they piled on more intimidation, wearing bullet-resistant vests "so it would clearly be obvious to her that there were different stakes on the table this time around,'' Ley told state attorney's investigators. "Our hope was to ramp up her anxiety a little."

The St. Petersburg detective, who is not being named because he works undercover, knocked on the door and some windows while the other two took position at corners of the house.

It took three to four minutes for Christine Lacy to come to the door, Then she refused to let the officers inside. Get a warrant, she said.

Ley, who by prior agreement was playing bad cop, said they didn't need a warrant. "Don't make me go back to my car and get a sledge hammer and tear this storm door down,'' he said.

At that point, Christine Lacy started falling apart. She acknowledged her husband was there, had been with her in bed when the knock came, but was now in the attic.

She whispered: "Can you make it look like you're really searching the house so he don't know I told on him? 'Cause he gets out of this, I'll be dead, you know."

They pressed her about whether Lacy was armed. She acknowledged that guns were in the house but didn't know if he had one.

The St. Petersburg detective called for backup: Hydra Lacy was possibly in the attic, possibly armed. "Step it up.''

Ley and the St. Petersburg detective quickly searched the ground floor, room by room. Yaslowitz, a K-9 officer, arrived and joined them with his dog Ace, who barked frenetically as the Lacys' three Rottweilers responded in kind from the back yard. After searching the house, Yaslowitz returned Ace to his vehicle.

The attic opening was small, with no pull rope to get access. There weren't any marks on the wall to indicate someone had hastily scrambled up. Several voiced doubts that a guy as big as Lacy, 6-foot-4 and 284 pounds, could even fit through the hole.

Still, they slid the access panel aside, pounded on the ceiling and yelled that they knew he was up there, to come down.

"Why don't you thump on the ceiling twice, let us know you hear us,'' Ley said. Someone else threatened to send Ace up.

Ley found a two-step ladder in the kitchen and ran an extension mirror with a light through the access opening. He could see boxes and duct work and an air handler. Yaslowitz took a look with the same result.

Then Yaslowitz suddenly hoisted himself into the attic, Ley said. He was "very fit, very agile, very capable officer, just boosted himself up in there.''

Ley followed. Both officers searched with lights but saw nothing. Ley returned down the ladder and discussed searching the ground floor again.

Then they heard two voices from the attic.

Yaslowitz: "Let me see your hands now.''

Lacy: "I can't show you my hands and crawl at the same time.''

Yaslowitz: "Well you better figure out how to do it anyway.''

Ley climbed back up, with a push from the rear by the St. Petersburg detective when Ley's gear became stuck in the opening.

Yaslowitz was a few feet inside the attic with his Glock pointed at Lacy, who was spread-eagle on the attic rafters about 10 to 15 feet away, wearing only boxer shorts.

On Yaslowitz's orders, Lacy was slowly backing toward the officers.

"He's got Lacy clearly illuminated with his weapon light,'' Ley said. "He was confident. He was in control, and Lacy for the most part was being compliant.''

Seeing that, Ley holstered his gun and pointed a Taser at Lacy as backup.

Yaslowitz moved in to handcuff Lacy, bending over him. "I heard the cuffs ratchet . . . I saw his light come off of Lacy. So it went dark,'' said Ley, whose Taser light was weaker.

Then, Lacy began to roll over, his left arm coming up. As he and Yaslowitz begin to struggle, Ley shot his Taser into Lacy's shoulder and chest and applied the electric charge twice.

"You got me,'' Lacy said. "Stop it.''

Then Ley heard a shot and Tasered Lacy again. Then more shots. Ley continued to Taser Lacy and saw Yaslowitz roll to the side.

"I'm now in a gunfight with a Taser in my hand,'' Ley said. He dropped his light-mounted Taser, and the attic went dark as he reached for his gun.

A muzzle flashed and a slug hit his vest, another his groin. He lost balance and fell out of the attic and onto the undercover St. Petersburg detective.

That detective, along with the sheriff's detective who also works undercover, started yelling for Yaslowitz, but every time they made noise, Lacy would shoot through the ceiling toward their voices.

Piece of popcorn ceiling flew everywhere. "I was watching the pops on the tile'' as Lacy's bullets struck, the deputy said. They stopped talking to make themselves a less obvious target.

Groin wounds are dangerous because of arteries and Ley, lying on the hallway floor, began to wonder if he was going to die. He desperately wanted to return fire.

"I wanted to do something to end it so badly at that point,'' Ley said. "But out of respect for any chance we could save Yaz I didn't want to do anything to further jeopardize him.''

The two undercover deputies kept their guns aimed at the attic opening, hoping they could provide cover for their comrade if he tried to get down.

"We didn't want Yaz to have enough strength to pull himself down and not be there for him,'' the undercover deputy said.

• • •

St. Petersburg Officer Timothy McClintick dragged Ley into a nearby bathroom and gave him a windbreaker to put pressure on his wound.

Lacy fired shots toward the bathroom, so they tried to stay quiet, radioing their position.

"Get us out. Get us out. We are in the bathroom.''

Ley also made two cell phone calls, to his supervisor and his girlfriend.

I've been shot, he told her. He was worried about his mother, who was weakened by cancer. He told his girlfriend, "Please make sure that somebody is with her when they tell her.''

Sgt. Baitinger, who had arrived as backup, organized a rescue team along with Sgt. Karl Lounge, Officer Max McDonald and Officer Douglas Weaver. Carrying a ballistic shield over his head, Baitinger began searching for the bathroom, passing below the attic opening.

From the bathroom, McClintick saw a flashlight beaming down from the attic but didn't know if Baitinger saw it.

As Baitinger entered the doorway of the bedroom, more shots rained down.

"I actually see him take a round,'' McClintick said. "It was like in his lower right back."

Baitinger made a sound like "oh," and the bullet spun him around. He dropped his shield and backed into the bedroom, facing the hallway and the attic access.

More shots.

"I see him take another round high up in his torso,'' McClintick said. "It was almost like in his chest area."

Weaver could see smoke from the attic and returned fire through the ceiling. He yelled to Baitinger to escape through a bedroom window.

But Baitinger, shot twice, would not leave.

"No. I see Yaz," he said. "I see his boot.''

Baitinger told Weaver to go in after Yaslowitz and he would provide cover fire.

Weaver climbed the step-ladder and reached for Yaslowitz's leg.

"I'm yelling at Yaz, 'Yaz, man, you need to help me. Back up. Give me your other boot. Give me your other boot. Give me your foot.

" 'Crawl back to me.' ''

But Yaslowitz didn't move.

Then Lacy fired 10 to 15 rounds, and Weaver lost his footing. He fell to the hallway. Then he joined Ley and McClintick in the bathroom, where they broke out a window and escaped.

• • •

After climbing out the bathroom window, Weaver went around to the bedroom where Baitinger lay wounded. He broke the window and climbed in. Lacy started shooting.

"I just yell, look, I'm just trying to get my buddy.''

Weaver knocked over a TV cabinet that blocked the doorway so Lacy wouldn't be able to see him from the attic.

"So I wrestle with Tom, try to get him up.'' Weaver said. "I felt he was still warm.''

Weaver handed Baitinger out to other officers and left the house himself.

A few minutes later, Lacy called 911 and talked to police off and on for almost an hour.

He said he "was coming out, but I just need to gather my thoughts,'' police said. He said not to send anyone else in and he didn't want to hurt anyone else.

He warned them that he was wearing Yaslowitz's earpiece and could hear all the police radio transmissions.

Yaslowitz was hit in the shoulder, he said, and not badly injured. But he refused to let investigators talk to him. Police offered to exchange themselves for Yaslowitz as hostages.

Lacy refused.

He said he would kill Yaslowitz if there were any rescue attempts.

Lacy also called friends, telling them he had shot police officers.

In an early morning call, Lacy told his friend Jervon Newton that he had been shot twice, "once in the shoulder and once in the a--. There's blood everywhere."

Newton said, "I can't help you out of this one.''

Meanwhile, Weaver was organizing the SWAT team in another attempt to rescue Yaslowitz, throwing in tear gas this time.

But Lacy had moved. As they entered the front door, "my hair started standing up and I trust my sixth sense entirely,'' Weaver said. "I felt he was up there waiting for us.''

Lacy had moved his position to cover the front door. More shots came down. "It looked like he was just right above us, just putting them down on our heads,'' Weaver said

They retreated, pumped in more tear gas, then returned — this time firing into the ceiling where the shots had come from, which was not near the attic access and Yaslowitz's boot.

Officer Jason Deary went up the step-ladder and pulled on Yaslowitz's legs — but Lacy had apparently wrapped them in duct work and wire.

"It was very chaotic because he was so tangled up,'' Weaver said.

Finally, at 9:22 a.m., Deary was able to pull Yaslowitz out. Officer David Gerardo carried him out of the house.

The pace slowed.

Police could take their time to capture Lacy.

• • •

Police brought in heavy equipment and began tearing at the house to get at the man in the attic. With most of front of the house gone, Weaver and two other officers came into the kitchen from the back.

Lacy was covered in insulation, hung up in debris, one leg dangling from a collapsed rafter.

"I go over and I check him with my boot because I can't see his right arm and I'm just not playing games with this guy,'' Weaver said. "I check him with my boot. I could tell at that time when I touched him that he was deceased.''

It 2:13 p.m., more than seven hours after officers knocked on Christine Lacy's door.

• • •

Revealed for the first time Thursday was the crucial role that Weaver played. He tried to pull Yaslowitz down from the attic, then helped rescue Ley. Then he went back for Baitinger. Later, he was part of the team that finally freed Yaslowitz.

Weaver, 45, has been on the force for 22 years. He's a member of the SWAT team and returned to patrol about a year ago after working as a burglary detective.

At the end of that day, Weaver was part of the team that went in and found Lacy's body.

An autopsy showed that Lacy had 10 gunshot wounds, with one fatal shot striking his chest. The state attorney's report said that Lacy probably died during or shortly after police pulled Yaslowitz from the house.

Yaslowitz was shot twice in the head in rapid succession, indicating that both shots came from Lacy's 9mm Taurus. Both were fatal and rendered him immediately unconscious.

He probably died instantly, St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon said Thursday in a news conference.

Both Yaslowitz's .40-caliber Glock and Lacy's gun were found next to Lacy's body. The state attorney concluded that Lacy was using both guns during the shoot-out and that the nonfatal shot that hit Baitinger was from Yaslowitz's gun.

Harmon also theorized Thursday that Christine Lacy helped conceal her husband by moving the step-ladder before letting police enter the house.

Yaslowitz acted appropriately and in accordance with training by going into the attic, Harmon said. It's a common hiding place.

"There's not a police officer in my department who hasn't stuck their head in an attic to look for a suspect.''

At the same time, Harmon said, his department will soon complete its own administrative investigation on the shootings and also review all procedures.

But in this somber time for the department, Harmon couldn't talk about the deaths of Baitinger and Yaslowitz — the first St. Petersburg officers slain in 30 years — without mentioning this week's fatal shooting of veteran Officer David Crawford.

"We hadn't finished the first case … before the second one happened. And so I kind of describe my feelings right at this point as being numb. It's hard to sleep. It's hard to eat."

Times staff writers Jamal Thalji and Richard Martin and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

State Attorney's report on Hydra Lacy shooting clears officers; praises their heroism 02/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 24, 2011 11:56pm]

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