NEW PORT RICHEY — Pinellas sheriff's Deputy Charles Redinger had just finished his shift Thursday afternoon. He drove his cruiser to his house in New Port Richey and sat in the driveway to complete paperwork.
Suddenly he faced a loud challenge: "Fight me, … !''
Redinger got out of his car and met a teenager who swung at him and missed. They grappled and the deputy handcuffed him and placed him in the back of his patrol car.
The teen, later identified as Julian Hayes, 17, who lives in the same Nature's Hideaway subdivision, kicked out the right rear window as Redinger summoned backup from Pasco County deputies. Hayes wriggled his hands in front of him, screamed and spit blood at them through the missing window, they reported.
As the deputies removed him from the car to reposition the handcuffs, he fought, according to a report. They used Tasers and pepper spray to subdue him until an ambulance took him to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg after he told them he had smoked a synthetic drug known as spice.
"It demonstrates to every parent … about why we take it so seriously about getting spice off our streets," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said on Friday. "You can take an average teen boy … and now he's going to have a felony record and maybe time in prison."
Hayes was charged with auto burglary, assaulting a deputy, resisting arrest and criminal mischief.
Doug Leonardo, executive director of Baycare Behavioral Health, said the behaviors described match what he usually sees in patients: the depravity, the paranoia and violence.
"Synthetic marijuana," he said, is a misnomer for the drug. Because manufacturers spray the leafy substance with a host of chemicals, the reactions vary. It's closer to a hallucinogen, he said.
Leonardo said he has seen patients lose eyesight and hearing. Some experience heart attack-like symptoms.
"You smoke this stuff one time," he said, "and you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know what the effect is going to be.
"Kids think that because they can get (spice) in a convenience store, that it's legal and it's not going to hurt them. And nothing could be further from the truth.''
For more than a year, Nocco has pushed for legislation to keep spice out of stores. Pasco commissioners approved the Synthetic Drug Ordinance, which hit sellers in the wallet and pegged the drugs for their packaging: "items described by misleading packaging such as 'potpourri,' 'synthetic marijuana,' or 'synthetic drugs.' " Convenience store owners caught carrying the drugs have been fined $500 per package. One store owner last month was fined $23,500.
State legislation went after the contents of the packages, outlawing the chemicals on broader terms to keep manufacturers from tweaking ingredients to avoid prosecution.
Nocco has publicly shamed a handful of convenience store owners caught selling the drugs, leading them in handcuffs in front of reporters and photographers. Mostly, he said, his strategies have worked to get the drugs out of stores, but have driven the trade underground. Friends sell to friends out of homes. He worries they'll sell at schools.