Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Public safety

Three SWAT members put on leave

DADE CITY — Three SWAT team members have been suspended after a standoff early Monday morning ended in the shooting death of 23-year-old Army veteran Justin Plaza.

Pasco County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Wilkins and Cpl. Marc Erickson and New Port Richey police Officer Aaron Eck were placed on administrative leave with pay while the State Attorney's Office reviews the incident. Such suspensions are routine in shooting investigations.

Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said autopsy and toxicology reports will take weeks.

Wilkins and Erickson have been with the Sheriff's Office for about 11 years. Eck was hired by the Police Department 3 ½ years ago.

They were among 35 to 40 law enforcement officers on the scene, Dade City police Chief Ray Velboom said. Ten were Dade City police, he said. The rest were part of a joint SWAT team of Pasco Sheriff's deputies and New Port Richey police officers.

After a 911 call late Sunday night, police responded to 14022 Morgan Ave., where the caller said Plaza was in the house holding a gun to a relative's head. About 12:45 Monday morning, SWAT team members arrived, evacuated neighbors and surrounded the house.

Plaza's aunt, Adlin Aguillera, who owns the house, and his mother, Sharon Karim, were helped out of the house by officers. Plaza remained inside. SWAT members tried to coax him out over a public announcement system and by phone.

He appeared at the door, holding a handgun at his side, Sheriff Chris Nocco said. When officers told him to drop it, he disappeared inside. Eight minutes later, he emerged again. This time, he raised the gun at a group of deputies. Wilkins, Erickson and Eck opened fire. Nocco said Plaza never fired the gun. He died at the scene.

Officers knew he was an Army veteran, said New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens, who heads the SWAT team. A week earlier, on March 25, Dade City officers responded to a call that Plaza was in his driveway, firing a .45-caliber Taurus handgun into trees and bushes.

When the officers arrived, Plaza answered the door, gun in hand. When they told him to drop it, he did. A police report says he became hostile with officers and shouted profanities at them.

Aguillera said her nephew hadn't been acting "right" lately.

Plaza said he was an Army veteran and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. He said he had smoked K2, an herbal blend marketed as incense but better known as synthetic marijuana. He told officers it helped him "cope," a report states.

Records indicate Plaza was stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., in 2007 and Fort Campbell, Ky., in 2008. Denise Plaza, who is married to Justin's father, said Justin served in Afghanistan. She did not give any other details.

Justin Plaza attended Tampa's Robinson High School.

Steffens said this is the first time Pasco SWAT members have had to use deadly force. Since it formed last summer, the team had 44 missions without any injuries involved — before the Plaza shooting.

"There's no doubt that he had every understanding that he was forcing law enforcement to attempt to negotiate with him," Steffens said, "and he was forcing law enforcement to take his life."

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

Comments
Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

SAFETY HARBOR — When Fire Chief Joe Accetta started working at the Safety Harbor Fire Department, Fire Station 53 was a double wide in the middle of a field now home to Mease Countryside Hospital.Now almost four decades of challenges and promotions l...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Deputies were searching for suspects Tuesday after troubled rapper-singer XXXTentacion was fatally shot in the driver’s seat of a luxury electric sports car. The 20-year-old rising star, who pronounced his stage name "Ex Ex Ex...
Updated: 3 hours ago
New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charges

New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charges

NEW PORT RICHEY — A New Port Richey man was arrested Monday and faces sexual battery charges after deputies said he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl.Jonathan Wells, 33, would take the victim into his bedroom and undress her, kiss her face and ne...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

A Lakeland man and his girlfriend face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old daughter last week.Larry Lewis Golden Jr., 26, Breonna B. Wren, 21, were arrested Friday and are being held without bail ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Published: 06/18/18
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on Sunday night and then drove off.The incident took place at 9:15 p.m. near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh Avenue.No details a...
Published: 06/18/18
St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

HUDSON — A 16-year-old St. Petersburg teen who was seven months pregnant was fatally injured in a crash Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident took place at 9:11 p.m. on Little Road south of Hudson Avenue. The teen, Emily ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

A Tampa man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries on Sunday after he was rescued from a near drowning off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular hangout on the beach of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.When police officers a...
Published: 06/18/18