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Hernando deputies cleared in fugitive's drowning

BROOKSVILLE — Complaints by local activist Brian Moore that deputies are responsible for the death of a 35-year-old fugitive are unfounded, an investigation by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has determined.

The investigation results, released Tuesday, deal with the death of James "Little Man" Rayford, who was wanted in Pasco County on several warrants.

Rayford was tracked down Sept. 10 while fishing on Hunter's Lake in Spring Hill. Deputies and detectives from Pasco and Hernando spotted Rayford and waited for him to come ashore.

A helicopter and tracking canines were ready for him to run. Rayford paddled his kayak to shore about 5 p.m., but when he saw the law enforcement officers, he ditched the boat and jumped into the lake.

A helicopter pilot located Rayford and saw him surface for air several times. Then he vanished.

Two days later, his body floated to the top of the lake.

Moore, who ran as a Socialist Party candidate for president last year, said Rayford's death appeared "to be the direct result of the sheriff's vast presence and intimidating threats on the water's edge."

Moore also accused the Sheriff's Office of using the helicopter "in a menacing fashion," knocking Rayford out of the boat and into the water.

Over the course of the nearly two-month investigation, the Sheriff's Office interviewed a handful of witnesses identified by Moore, law enforcement officers who participated in the pursuit and the medical examiner.

Witnesses interviewed by the investigators did not support Moore's version of the events, including a man who accused Moore of "trying to get me" to tell versions of "things that I didn't see," according to the report.

Other witnesses told investigators that Rayford jumped out of the boat when the helicopter closed in and started swimming away. They said it appeared that the helicopter pilot, Deputy Michael Coburn, tried to use the craft's rotors to blow the kayak toward Rayford for safety. But Rayford ignored those efforts and kept swimming.

"We hope this vindicates Coordinator Coburn and any actions of our agency," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. The agency had no further comment.

Dissatisfied with the results of the investigation, Moore said he planned to take the case to the state Attorney General's Office, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP.

"I'm disappointed and surprised that the Sheriff's Office reached this conclusion," Moore said. "I disagree with it, and I think they're using me as a scapegoat. They're trying to whitewash this thing."

Rayford, from Lacoochee, had a lengthy criminal history and had spent nearly 11 years in prison. His arrest record was 20 pages long — armed burglary, grand theft, possessing and selling marijuana and cocaine.

At the time of his death, Rayford was listed on the Pasco County sheriff's Web site as one of its most-wanted fugitives.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Hernando deputies cleared in fugitive's drowning 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:09pm]

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