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Deputy who shot teen scheduled to return to work today

BROOKSVILLE — The deputy who shot an 18-year-old Nature Coast Technical High School student last month after he allegedly attacked her was expected to return to patrol duty today.

Deputy Ramona Fuhs was notified Wednesday that she could report back to work, said sheriff's Col. Mike Maurer.

Maurer said the decision was made after consulting with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is conducting a standard investigation.

Maurer last conferred with FDLE representatives on Tuesday. A psychologist also evaluated Fuhs and declared her fit for duty, Maurer said.

"With that, and after reviewing everything, we felt confident we could get her back to work," Maurer said. "As an agency, we certainly don't see any obvious policy violations. We're glad our deputy is able to return, and we're glad the young man is making a recovery, also."

FDLE will forward its findings to the State Attorney's Office to determine if the use of force was justified.

Fuhs, 41, was responding to a call about an "irrational person" on Candler Avenue about 9 p.m. Feb. 27 when she encountered Joseph Berrios in the 4000 block of Candler, according to a probable cause affidavit.

As Fuhs tried to get out of her squad car, the affidavit states, Berrios approached the driver's side, grabbed the door and hit her with it. Fuhs got out of the car and tried to retreat, but Berrios continued to strike her, according to the affidavit.

Fuhs fired, hitting Berrios in the leg and buttocks.

The affidavit does not say whether Berrios was armed. Fuhs was taken to the hospital with neck and shoulder injuries. She was treated and placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure.

Berrios underwent surgery, and his parents posted bail before he was released from the hospital.

The process to return an officer to duty after a shooting varies by agency. Some wait until all of the investigations into a shooting incident are complete. Others, including Hernando County, leave it up to the sheriff to decide.

The sheriff and the FDLE's special agent in charge, along with members of the department's investigative team, meet three times within 72 hours after such an incident. The Sheriff's Office's attorney, internal affairs investigator, forensics staffers and a representative from the State Attorney's Office are also present.

Based on those meetings and the results of the psychological evaluation, the sheriff has the authority to return the employee back to active duty. An internal affairs investigation confirming the officer followed agency policies is completed later.

Last year, Nienhuis returned an off-duty detective to regular duty nine days after he and an off-duty Tampa officer shot and killed Inga Marie Swanson, who confronted the officers with a firearm in Spring Hill. Swanson, who was nude at the time and reportedly acting erratically before the shooting, died at the scene of the Oct. 20 incident.

Two months later, the State Attorney's Office, which reviews the completed FDLE investigation, concluded the officers were justified in their actions.

Berrios was hanging out at a friend's house about four or five blocks from his own on Dristol Avenue when he started acting strangely, said Peyton Hyslop, the attorney James and Barbara Berrios hired to represent their son. The friend called Barbara Berrios and asked her to come get him, Hyslop said.

When his mother arrived, Joseph Berrios refused to leave, so she left to go get her husband. In the meantime, the couple called 911 because they felt their son needed to be taken into protective custody.

Before they returned, Berrios started walking and, shortly after, was shot.

Doctors changed the teenager's medication shortly before the shooting, the family told Hyslop's office staff. Hyslop has declined to elaborate.

Both Hyslop and Maurer said it doesn't appear that anyone witnessed the altercation and shooting. Neighbors told reporters they heard shots and saw Fuhs standing over Berrios with her weapon drawn, yelling for him not to move.

Hyslop said this week that Berrios can recall little about the incident.

Fuhs has worked about 30 months as a full-time deputy over two periods of employment at the Sheriff's Office. Her personnel file includes glowing evaluations and no blemishes.

Still, returning Fuhs to the street now seems premature, Hyslop said.

"Before someone who shoots somebody is put back to work, I'd think it would be more appropriate for the final investigation to be concluded," Hyslop said.

Berrios' arraignment has been postponed until April 2. Assistant State Attorney Sonny McCathran said he is completing his review of the case before filing formal charges.

Berrios does not have a criminal record. He is using crutches and will soon start physical therapy, Hyslop said. One of the bullets remains lodged in his leg because doctors decided removing it would cause more damage.

It's unclear when or if he will return to Nature Coast, Hyslop said.

A sheriff's spokeswoman said Fuhs is not permitted to comment on the case because of the ongoing investigation. Reached Thursday, her husband said Fuhs also would not comment about her return work.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.

Deputy who shot teen scheduled to return to work today 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:16pm]
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