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Hillsborough Sheriff releases details of May deputy shooting

A lengthy report details how the off-duty deputy and his girlfriend were shot at home, and deems it an accident. The agency previously made no announcement about the incident.

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office released a detailed account Friday of a May shooting that wounded a deputy and a woman described as his live-in girlfriend.

The shooting was deemed to be an accident and occurred while the deputy was off-duty. Physical evidence and witness statements were consistent with the shooting being accidental, sheriff’s officials said.

Of note in the report is a witness, Danny Alvarez, who is a civilian employee of the Sheriff’s Office and is running to become a circuit judge in the August election. Alvarez is a friend of the couple. He was not present when the shooting occurred, but was one of the first to learn of it and notified authorities.

The Sheriff’s Office previously made no public announcement about the incident and released scant information, citing an active investigation. But on Friday, days after the shooting was reported in the Tampa Bay Times, they released a 235-page report detailing the now-closed case.

Sheriff Chad Chronister acknowledged Wednesday in an interview with the Times editorial board that more information should have been released publicly at the time of the incident. He spoke of the need for transparency and gave notice he would be releasing the report Friday.

Related: A Hillsborough deputy was shot in May. Why was it kept quiet?

“We certainly missed the mark on this one,” Chronister said.

Deputies were sent in the early evening of May 23 to a Hillsborough County home, where they found two people shot. The wounded were Samuel Rodriguez, who is a detention deputy with the Sheriff’s Office, and Johana Rodriguez, his girlfriend, according to the report.

Investigators learned the couple took their children to a relative’s home earlier that day to go swimming, according to the report.

Johana Rodriguez, who has a concealed weapons permit, brought with her a backpack that held a gun in a front pocket, the report states.

While inside a bedroom, one of the children grabbed the backpack, unaware there was a weapon inside, sheriff’s officials said. Johana Rodriguez tried to grab the bag from the child. As she did so, the bag fell to the floor and the gun went off.

The bullet grazed her left calf, then continued upward, going through her right thigh, sheriff’s officials said. It then struck Samuel Rodriguez in his center chest.

Johana Rodriguez attempted to call 911, but the call did not connect, according to the report. Elsewhere in the house, a relative managed to get through to emergency dispatchers.

She then phoned Alvarez, whom she later described as a “best friend” of the couple.

Alvarez is a special projects manager for the Sheriff’s Office and previously worked as the agency’s spokesman. He is also an attorney and is running in the election for Hillsborough circuit judge group 30.

The sheriff’s report includes a transcript of a detective’s interview with Alvarez, which was conducted Thursday afternoon, the day before the report was released.

Alvarez told the detective he’d introduced the couple, Samuel and Johana Rodriguez, having known them separately for years. They’d planned to have him conduct their marriage ceremony on May 24. They ended up marrying in early June, records show.

Alvarez said he was in the midst of dinner at his home when he got the call from Johana Rodriguez. When he answered, he heard screaming. He heard her say something about being shot, but had difficulty understanding her. He asked her to turn on her phone’s Face Time function so he could see what was happening. When she did, he saw his friends and blood on the floor. He tried to tell her to apply a tourniquet.

He hung up and called 911, relaying that a deputy was down.

Alvarez did not go to the shooting scene, he said. While on the phone with a 911 operator, he began to drive to the hospital.

Part of the investigation focused on the gun’s functionality. The report notes that the weapon, a Glock 43, had what’s known as an aftermarket trigger, a modification that can make the trigger easier to fire.

Alvarez, when shown a photo of the Glock, identified the trigger as a “Ranger Proof Edge.” He told the detective he is a minority owner of Ranger Proof, the North Carolina company which sells that aftermarket trigger brand. He said he didn’t remember if he was the one who installed the trigger on that particular gun.

The weapon underwent laboratory testing through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It was found to be functional. Investigators noted that a spent bullet shell casing was still in the chamber.

There was a hole in the backpack, a crack in the bottom of a holster inside, and gunpowder residue, consistent with the gun being in the bag when it went off.