TAMPA — A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a dog along the Gasparilla Parade route Saturday evening after it attacked a patrol horse, authorities said.
Deputies called for backup outside the high-rise 345 Bayshore Condominiums at about 6:30 p.m., shortly after the Parade of Pirates wound past the spot near the exit ramp for Tampa General Hospital.
Large crowds were still gathered along the Bayshore Boulevard route at the time of the attack and watched as the dog, believed to be a pit bull, charged at a team of horses carrying mounted patrol deputies from both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department.
According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office, the dog belonged to a homeless man who witnessed the incident but made no apparent attempts to grab his pet as it attacked the horses. The 70-pound animal had been tied to a gate outside the condo tower, the Sheriff’s office said. But when it saw the horses turn off Bayshore Boulevard and head down Platt Street the dog broke free of its tether and began to charge the horses, attacking three times, the Sheriff’s office said.
At first, the dog ran toward a horse with the TPD mounted unit, barking and growling as it tried to bite the horse’s hind legs. A deputy nearby attempted to deploy his taser on the dog, but could not establish a clear point of contact without potentially tasing the horse, the Sheriff’s office said.
The dog retreated to the far side of the road before turning back toward the horses again, this time charging at 16-year-old Romeo, who has been a part of the Sheriff’s Mounted Unit for 14 years. The dog attempted to bite Romeo multiple times, eventually latching on to a protective covering on one of his front legs.
When the dog unlatched, it began attacking the horse a third time before Deputy Crystal McClelland, another mounted officer in the group, shot the dog once in the center of its back out of fear for the horse’s safety, the Sheriff’s office said.
The dog died from its injuries at the scene. None of the horses was seriously injured.
After the shooting, the dog’s owner began threatening to harm the deputies and harm himself. A knife was located in the man’s pocket and he was taken into custody under the Baker Act.
McClelland has worked as a Sheriff’s deputy for 26 years and been a member of the Mounted Unit for 18 years, the department said. This is the first shooting incident in her career, and it remains under investigation.
Laura Josephson witnessed the shooting from her spot along the parade route and posted a photo of the aftermath to her Twitter account.
“I was in the paid section right across the street, waiting for the crowds to clear out and saw the laser from the gun pointed on the ground and heard the shot,” Josephson said in a message to the Tampa Bay Times.
Others who witnessed the incident told the Times that the Sheriff’s Office’s account of what happened is not accurate. The dog never attacked the horse, said Justin Schwegel of Sarasota.
He said the dog’s owner tried to comply with deputies’ orders to move from the street to the sidewalk, but the dog didn’t immediately cooperate and then was frightened by the moving crowd and multiple horses working to corral it.
“They didn’t give him reasonable time to obey,” said Schwegel, 36. "If they had been less aggressive, he would have been able to get the dog out of the way and there would not have been any need to discharge a weapon.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, who was at the parade, said in a statement that “it is never an easy decision for a deputy to deploy their weapons, especially for a member of our Mounted Unit, deputies who have dedicated their lives to working with animals, to use force against one. While it is extremely upsetting that a dog lost its life in this incident, there could have been many more injuries and potential losses had the horse been badly injured, not only to the horse itself, but also to the deputy riding him, the crowd of people walking nearby on Bayshore Blvd and the other horses who could have reacted due to their herd mentality."
Few other incidents broke out along the Gasparilla parade route Saturday, authorities said.
According to Tampa Police, only 21 arrests were made, 15 of which were for charges of boating under the influence.
Authorities made two felony arrests, one for grand theft and one for burglary, two misdemeanor arrests for battery charges and one misdemeanor arrest for improper display of a firearm. Tampa Fire Rescue also tended to one float crew member who injured a foot when the float ran over it.
Vehicle impounds prior to the parade were down from 2019, Tampa Police said, with only 10 vehicles being towed from the no-parking zones.
Times Staff Writer Megan Reeves contributed to this report.