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Off-duty officer shoots suspect in shoplifting

The Pinellas sheriff's deputy fires three shots at a man fleeing in the parking lot of a Seminole Home Depot.

Mary Box was walking to her van in the crowded Home Depot parking lot when three gunshots exploded only feet away. Box ducked for cover, a woman and her young child cowering nearby.

"It was frightening," said Box, of Seminole. "I have never heard a gunshot before in my life."

The shots were fired shortly before noon Monday by an off-duty Pinellas sheriff's deputy trying to arrest two suspected shoplifters. Deputy Christopher Taylor was holding a female suspect when a second suspect, a man, drove by in a BMW and grabbed the woman.

"Me and the cop both had ahold of her," said Richard Parry, 37, of Seminole. "We were being dragged."

Taylor fired three times, wounding the driver in the temple and forearm. Ralph D. Pussehl, 35, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center and later released. Pussehl, of 3699 50th Ave. N in St. Petersburg, was arrested and was being questioned Monday night.

Charlee Julia Jefford, 28, who lives at the same address, also was arrested.

Taylor was put on paid administrative leave, a customary procedure after a shooting. Sheriff's officials and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office are conducting separate investigations.

"I don't think (the deputy) should be shooting his gun in the Home Depot parking lot," said Box, the witness.

Sheriff Everett Rice said it was too early in the investigation to comment on the deputy's actions. "I need to know more about it," he said. "It's too premature to second-guess the deputy."

The incident began when Taylor, 28, wearing a gray T-shirt, gym shorts and a ball cap, walked up to the store and noticed two people sprinting away as an alarm sounded. Taylor identified himself as a deputy and chased them briefly, catching Jefford near the front of the store. Pussehl ran to a BMW parked on the east side of the lot and jumped in.

Pussehl steered his car toward Taylor, said Parry, who had been picking up a load of supplies for Bob Evans restaurants and decided to help the deputy.

As the BMW whizzed toward them, Parry saw Pussehl reach through the passenger side window and grab Jefford's arm.

"He was trying to pull her into the car," said Parry.

The commotion attracted bystander Mike Brogan's attention. He saw the BMW moving north in the parking lot.

"He started driving off, and he was trying to get her inside," said Brogan. "He was dragging them. There was a lot of screaming going on. It was really crazy stuff."

Parry said he and Taylor started losing their balance as the car moved.

Then Taylor "kinda side-stepped back and shot at the car," said Parry.

"I was so close it was like in my ear," he continued. "My God, I had no clue that was going to happen."

It was unclear when Taylor pulled his gun, a Glock 9-millimeter. Sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie said Pussehl grabbed Taylor's shirt at one point, and Taylor was concerned that he and Jefford were in danger of being dragged under the car.

"He fell away from the car, and that's when he fired," Dennie said.

One bullet hit the car's rear window, and another went through the top of the rear passenger side window. It was unclear where the third bullet went.

Another off-duty sheriff's deputy, Ural Darling, also was at the store and ran out to see what had happened. He helped subdue Pussehl.

Detectives were completing an inventory of the items they believe were stolen from the store. A water pump from the store was found in Pussehl's car. Dennie would not elaborate.

Taylor, 28, was hired as a deputy 18 months ago. He has not been involved in a previous shooting, said Dennie.

Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison declined to comment on the shooting, but said store employees are trained to ask customers who set off alarms to step back into the store. Employees do not to pursue anyone beyond the entrance, he said.

Pussehl has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1984. It includes convictions for auto theft, grand larceny, burglary, dealing in stolen property, hit and run and aggravated assault. Jefford has been charged twice this month for shoplifting, records show.

The two have been living in a St. Petersburg duplex since November, said Jim Stanton, who manages the property. Pussehl and Jefford had a tree-trimming business, but were behind in their rent.

"Here lately he hasn't been working much," Stanton said. "He makes good money when he works."

_ Times Staff Writer Wilma Norton and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Jane Meinhardt can be reached at 445-4156 or at

Home Depot shooting

A man and a woman run out of Home Depot, setting off the alarm at the door.

An off-duty Pinellas County sheriff's deputy stops the woman and takes her into custody. The man makes it to his parked car. As the deputy goes through her purse, her accomplice pulls up in a BMW, grabs her arm and tries to pull her into the car.

The car moves slowly north through the parking lot, dragging the woman as the deputy continues to hold onto her. The deputy fires three shots as he falls back, wounding the male suspect.