TAMPA — The man accused of ramming the patrol car of Hillsborough Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian LaVigne will be prosecuted on nine charges, including premeditated murder of a law enforcement officer, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren announced late Thursday.
Travis Zachary Garrett, 28, intentionally plowed his car into the marked patrol car of LaVigne earlier this month, meriting the capital felony charge of first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, Warren said.
“This was a deliberate attack on law enforcement; he targeted a cop,” Warren said in a statement. “When you commit a crime like this — when you cause pain like this — you should expect consequences like this.”
In a brief hearing Friday, a defense attorney said Garrett remained hospitalized and was not expected to be present for a Monday court hearing, where prosecutors will argue that he should be jailed without bail.
Warren’s office will seek a grand jury indictment for the first-degree murder charge as Florida law requires. Grand jury proceedings are currently suspended in Hillsborough County until Feb. 8 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking after Friday’s hearing, Warren said his office had yet to begin the process of deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
Florida court rules give prosecutors 45 days from the date of an arraignment to make such a decision. Under the law, they must cite an aggravating circumstance that would qualify death as a possible punishment. One possible aggravating circumstance listed in Florida law is that the murder victim was a law enforcement officer.
But other circumstances, like a defendant’s mental illness, can also weigh against a decision to seek capital punishment.
Warren emphasized that the crime was apparently deliberate.
“The evidence showed that he chose to do this,” he said. “It was not an accident. He chose to attack and kill a police officer.”
The other eight charges Garrett faces are fleeing from law enforcement resulting in death; vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter; two counts each of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with violence; and criminal mischief.
Hillsborough deputies were called Jan. 11 to the Paddock Club apartments in Brandon, where it was reported that Garrett was walking around naked, breaking things and acting erratically, according to sheriff’s officials and prosecutors. He first ignored the deputies, then attacked them, enduring Taser jolts before fleeing in a Nissan Maxima, prosecutors said.
Garrett rammed through an iron exit gate, fleeing south on Brandon Parkway as sheriff’s cars followed with lights flashing. He turned west on Lumsden Road.
LaVigne, a master corporal at the time who was not yet involved in the pursuit, was parked a few hundred yards away. His fellow deputies watched as the Nissan cut across two lanes of traffic, heading for him. The Nissan slammed into the driver’s side of LaVigne’s patrol cruiser.
LaVigne, 54, was trapped. Rescue workers pried him from the wreckage. He was later pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital. Sheriff Chad Chronister posthumously promoted him to sergeant.
When deputies pulled Garrett from the Nissan, he was described as “elevated and rambling” and showed signs of being impaired. A urine test at the hospital was positive for cocaine and marijuana, according to court documents.
Records show Garrett has a history of mental health issues. In 2017, he was arrested in Georgia after getting in a physical altercation with deputies in Camden County. Although he was charged with multiple offenses, Garrett’s case was later dismissed. Court paperwork indicates he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and participated in mental health treatment at a veterans hospital in Gainesville.
A month earlier, Pasco County deputies encountered Garrett after they responded to a report of a person making “suicidal threats” at a home in Wesley Chapel, a report shows.
A woman, identified in the report as Garrett’s girlfriend, told deputies that he had recently been treated for bipolar disorder at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. She said he had cut his hand that evening when he punched a car, breaking a window. She phoned for help after hearing him say that he “wanted to die tonight,” according to the report. The deputies took Garrett to a local hospital.