TAMPA — A sting operation turned deadly Wednesday evening when an undercover deputy posing as a drug buyer and a suspect got into a violent struggle at an apartment complex, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.
The suspect was fatally shot.
The undercover deputy, whose name was not released, fell down stairs outside the complex and was taken to the hospital.
It happened about 5:30 p.m. in a stairwell outside the Cinnamon Cove Apartments at 12401 N 15th St. in the University area.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Col. Donna Lusczynski said the agency was responding to citizen complaints when it sent an undercover deputy to the complex Wednesday to pose as a crack cocaine buyer.
But the suspect tried to rob the undercover deputy, she said, and a violent struggle ensued. As the two men fought over the deputy's gun, it fired several times, Lusczynski said.
Two undercover deputies serving as backup saw the struggle, identified themselves as deputies, told the suspect to release the gun and then — when he refused to comply — fired, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Dallas Gillyard, 65, a former security officer, he said the man killed was his stepson, Robert Gary Jr. of Tampa.
"He just turned 31 yesterday," he said. "That's a hell of a birthday present courtesy of the Hillsborough sheriff." Gillyard said his stepson, whose parents are deceased, has sold drugs and been to prison in the past, but robbery was not his crime of choice.
"He never carried a gun or a knife," he said. "He wasn't violent. Sure, he sold drugs, but he never pulled a gun on nobody."
State records show that Gary's string of arrests began at age 13. While most were on drug, theft or battery charges, the records show he had twice been arrested on charges involving a weapon. The first, in 1996, was on a charge of aggravated assault with a weapon. The records do not show the disposition of the case. In the second, in 2009, a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon was dropped.
He served four prison terms on cocaine and theft convictions and was most recently released in August, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
It was not clear Wednesday night which gun fired the fatal shot, how many deputies fired or how many shots were fired.
It also was not clear what injuries the deputy suffered. The Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the backup deputies feared he had been shot, but Lusczynski declined to detail his injuries. They were described as non-life-threatening.
Dozens of people gathered outside of the police line at E 122nd Avenue and N 15th Street.
The neighborhood buzzed with disbelief at the Sheriff's Office version of events and many said Gary, at 5 feet 2, was too timid to attack an officer.
Gillyard's anger boiled over as he stood near his daughter's home by the crime-scene tape.
"Every time you turn around the police are killing somebody," he said.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.