Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE — Minutes after he admittedly pulled a gun on a teenager last week in the parking lot of Hernando High School, Robert Browsky stood in the school’s office, ready to air his own grievances.
And Bill Pope was ready to talk to him. Someone in the front office had just radioed Pope, a Hernando County Sheriff’s deputy who serves as the school resource officer. A student said she'd seen an older man aim a gun at another student.
When Pope arrived, the girl pointed out the gunman: He was standing right there in the front office.
The deputy detained Browsky, 67. Sheriff’s Office records detail the account Browsky and others gave of the Nov. 27 incident:
Browksy waived his Miranda rights, then told Pope that a fast-driving teenager had threatened to beat him up as he walked his dog earlier that morning. Browsky said he drove to the school to complain about the teen. While in the school parking lot, he said, the teen tried to grab his phone when he tried to take a photo of the teen's truck.
Browsky said he reached into his own truck's center console, grabbed his .380 Smith & Wesson handgun with five rounds in the clip and one in the chamber and pointed it at the teen, the report said. Browsky said he feared for his own safety.
But his version didn't square with those of the teenage witnesses. Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis said those discrepancies were part of the reason why it took more than a day to arrest Browsky after an incident that drew on two of Florida's most heated subjects, the stand your ground self-defense law and school security.
"It’s always better to get a warrant if you have time, because then the arrest is presumed to be good and the information is presumed to be accurate,” Nienhuis said. "All that stuff takes time ... We had the situation calmed down.”
Deputies secured the arrest warrant after consulting with the State Attorney's Office. Browsky was arrested Nov. 28 on felony charges of aggravated assault and possession of a weapon on school property and a misdemeanor charge of trespassing on school grounds. He was released from jail that evening after posting $25,000 bail.
Both Browsky and Pope declined requests to be interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times about Tuesday’s events. The teenager and his family did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Angela Miller Royal, a Hernando High assistant principal who was in the office at the time of the incident, said she had no opinion on whether the Sheriff's Office did the right thing in waiting to make an arrest. She said the administration was simply "grateful for their presence at our school."
Assistant State Attorney Conrad Juergensmeyer said the combination of conflicting accounts, and the fact that the incident started off-campus, made it hard to say whether the delayed arrest was unusual.
"(It's) another good question, and one that I can't answer because this isn't a normal case," he said. "It's not like we have nine or 10 of these a week."
Browsky's lawyer, Jeff Cario, suggested his client was "the victim of an assault on several occasions" that day.
Everyone could agree, according to the report, on how it started: At about 6:50 a.m., a 17-year-old drove to school as Browsky walked his dog near his home at 152 Mount Fair Ave.
Their accounts diverge, according to the report, at the moment the teenager passed Browsky.
Browsky said the teen sped past him, and when he motioned for the driver to slow down, the teen put his truck in reverse, backed up several hundred feet and, through his open window, launched into an expletive-laden rant that included threats to beat Browsky.
The report said Browsky assumed the teen was a student at the school, so he walked home and got into his truck. A school security camera recorded him driving into the student parking lot at 7:23 a.m.
The Times was unable to review the footage because the Hernando County School District would not release it. The Sheriff's Office said it had not yet taken the video into evidence.
Browsky said he found the teen's truck, got out of his own truck and planned to use his phone to take photos of the teen's license plate. He said the teenager got out of a nearby parked car, approached him, started swearing at him and tried to grab the phone from his hand. Then Browsky said, the teen pursued him back to his truck.
Browsky opened a door, he said, and grabbed the pouch that held his semiautomatic pistol.
The teenager gave a different account. He said Browsky first approached him at a stop sign that morning, yelling at him to slow down. The teenager said he responded by telling him to "shut up," sandwiching a vulgarity in between the words.
Later in the parking lot, the teen said, he was sitting in a friend's car when he noticed the man trying to take pictures of his truck. He walked over and stood between Browsky and the license plate, he said, so Browsky gave up and headed back to his truck.
The teen said he tried to take a picture of Browsky's plates and planned to report him to school officials. Then he noticed Browsky coming at him with a gun.
“You’re going to shoot me on school property?” the teen said he told Browsky. “Are you kidding me?”
Browsky got back in his truck and left the student parking lot, the report said. The incident took seven minutes.
He reappeared a few minutes later in the school's front office, where he met Pope. Deputies found the gun in Browsky's truck and seized it as evidence.
The teen's friend later told deputies that he saw the teen confront Browsky, but did not see him try to take or knock away the man's phone. The teen did try to take a photo of Browsky's license plate, the friend said.
Browsky's statement to deputies that he feared for his safety and his drawing of a personal weapon in the midst of a small dispute echo cases across Florida and the country in which people who arm themselves and initiate a confrontation say they were defending themselves and invoke a stand your ground defense.
Nienhuis brought up the controversial law in explaining the delayed arrest. His office wanted to make sure it was "comfortable” with the parameters of stand your ground before making an arrest, he said.
Both the prosecutor and defense attorney said they didn't have enough information to determine whether stand your ground applied to this case.
"I’m not going to rule out any defense," Cario said. "But I know definitely it’s a self-defense case."
Hernando School District director of school safety Jill Renihan said she's disturbed by a trend of people settling petty arguments by arming themselves.
"Can we be a society that doesn’t rely on guns as a resolution tool?" she asked.
The district wants to improve school safety, and a major part of that is teaching students how to respond in the case of a threat, Renihan said. That includes reporting an incident to school officials, as the Hernando High student did in this case.
Nienhuis praised the response by the school resource officer, but suggested the incident was less about school safety and more about another common phenomenon: road rage. Browsky should have called the Sheriff’s Office, Nienhuis said, as should anyone facing a similar situation.
“We never encourage anybody to take the law into their own hands," he said. "Attempting to flag the person (down) … is setting yourself up for an incident like this."
Contact Jack Evans at [email protected] Follow @JackHEvans.