TAMPA — A woman who was shot by a Hillsborough County sheriff's detective during an undercover operation in Brandon last year is suing the deputy and Sheriff Chad Chronister.
The complaint filed Friday in federal court claims Detective Dean Greene II was negligent and used excessive force when he shot Racquel Marie Sanchez in the leg with an AR-15 rifle in February 2018. The complaint alleges Greene also violated Sanchez's Fourth Amendment rights and that Chronister, as sheriff, failed in his official capacity to ensure Greene was properly trained.
"Instead of safely detaining her, (Greene) discharged his AR-15 rifle, striking her with a high-velocity round that penetrated a car door and passed through the width of her left thigh, and causing permanent physical and emotional damages to a 19-year old woman," the suit says.
The so-called buy bust operation unfolded in the early evening hours of Feb. 6. Undercover deputies had arranged to meet Sanchez's boyfriend, Roberto Rivera Jr., in the parking lot of the Home Depot on State Road 60 to buy a suspected stolen firearm, according to the complaint. Greene's role as part of a five-person tactical team was to act as "eyes and ears" by monitoring communications between his fellow deputies, surveilling the scene and detaining anyone with Rivera while other deputies arrested him, the suit says.
Sanchez was driving a 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis and parked next to a car with two undercover deputies inside. Rivera was in the front passenger seat and another man was sitting in the back seat. The deputies expected other people would be with Rivera, according to the suit. Greene and the other four members of the tactical team were stationed nearby in two cars.
Rivera got out of the Mercury's front passenger seat, retrieved a firearm from the trunk and got into the deputies' car. Shortly after, three deputies converged on the undercover car to arrest Rivera while Greene and another deputy ran to the Mercury to detain Sanchez and the other passenger.
The suit says Sanchez immediately complied with the deputies' commands to raise her hands, extending them outside the car window as she sat in the driver's seat. As Greene ran alongside the driver's side of the Mercury, he fired a single round from his Colt AR-15, according to the complaint. The round penetrated the driver’s door of the Mercury Grand Marquis and traveled through Sanchez’s left thigh.
A few seconds later, the complaint says, a deputy standing behind the undercover car fired one round, striking Rivera and seriously injuring him. The deputy, later identified by the Sheriff's Office as Detective Joshua Lane, mistakenly assumed Rivera, not Greene, had opened fire, according to the complaint.
Greene told a sheriff's sergeant shortly after the shooting that Sanchez did not comply with his shouted commands to raise her hands, according to the complaint. The sergeant recalled Greene saying Sanchez was "possibly reaching for something" and that her hands went up and then back down as he approached the car.
But video footage captured by a surveillance system at a nearby car wash showed Sanchez immediately complied with commands and did not lower her hands before she was shot, according to the suit.
Sanchez was not charged in the incident. Records show Rivera was taken to Tampa General Hospital and booked on several charges including possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession and sale of cocaine and marijuana. He was sentenced in January to two and a half years in state prison, records show.
Greene's round permanently damaged Sanchez's sciatic nerve and she now suffers from a condition known as foot drop, caused by the inability of the nerves in her left leg to control muscles that lift and lower her left foot, the suit says. This has resulted in "a permanent deficiency in her normal gait and permanent limitations on her physical activities" along with permanent pain and discomfort.
According to the complaint, a Sheriff's Office investigation of the incident found that Greene violated the office's standard requiring deputies to use or handle weapons "in a careful, safe, and prudent manner on and off-duty.” He was suspended without pay in May 2018 for three days and ordered to take part in remedial firearms training.
Sanchez is seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages. Her attorney, Matt Farmer, declined to comment Thursday.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Crystal Clark said the office does not comment on pending litigation. Greene's personnel file and information about his current employment status were not available Thursday.
Greene was hired in January 2009, according to information previously released by the Sheriff's Office. At the time of the shooting, he had one disciplinary action in his file, a letter of counseling for an avoidable vehicle crash that resulted in damage to, or loss of, an agency vehicle.
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.