Woman sues Pinellas sheriff after she’s shot by accident at Palm Harbor apartment

She was hit in the arm when a deputy fired at her boyfriend. The boyfriend was firing a flare gun toward another man at the time, the Sheriff’s Office said.
A lawsuit has been filed against the Pinellas County sheriff by a woman shot in the arm when a deputy opened fire on her boyfriend at a Palm Harbor apartment.
A lawsuit has been filed against the Pinellas County sheriff by a woman shot in the arm when a deputy opened fire on her boyfriend at a Palm Harbor apartment. [ Zillow ]
Published April 16, 2020|Updated April 16, 2020

PALM HARBOR — Sheriff Bob Gualtieri faces a lawsuit by a woman shot and wounded by a sheriff’s deputy who was firing at her boyfriend.

Deputy Joseph Wodraska was at ground level of a Palm Harbor apartment complex in November 2018 when he opened fire on Joshua D’Anastasio as D’Anastasio stood on a second-floor apartment balcony, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release at the time.

The deputy believed D’Anastasio was about to shoot a neighbor with a handgun, according to the Sheriff’s Office. It turned out to be a flare gun. Wodraska missed him but the bullets shattered a sliding glass door beside him and hit his girlfriend Gwen Stubbs in the left arm, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The lawsuit, filed March 31 in Pinellas Circuit Court, accuses Gualtieri of negligence and calls him personally liable for the actions of his deputy.

Wodraska, 29 at the time of the incident, was “unfit to work in his assigned capacity” and was not properly trained or supervised to prevent the use of unreasonable force, the lawsuit says.

The Palm Harbor apartment complex, Stillwater Palms, also is named in the lawsuit, accused of failing to properly screen its residents, properly deploy security guards and cameras, or warn residents about earlier criminal activity at the apartment where the shooting occurred.

Stubbs says in the suit she suffered problems including permanent or continuing bodily injury, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement.

Contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, the Sheriff’s Office had no comment Thursday because it has not had time to review the lawsuit.

The incident started when Wodraska responded to a call from a woman about windows broken out on her car in the Stillwater Palms parking lot. The deputy spoke with D’Anastasio, and D’Anastasio denied knowing anything about the damage, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Wodraska returned when the woman said she and her boyfriend saw D’Anastasio acting suspiciously and hiding something in a dumpster. As the deputy spoke to the woman, D’Anastasio yelled down from his balcony and got into an argument with the woman’s boyfriend, who was on an adjacent balcony.

D’Anastasio walked into his apartment and returned with what the deputy thought was a firearm. The deputy opened fire after he saw the muzzle of the flare gun flash and heard it go off as it was leveled at the boyfriend. Neither the boyfriend nor D’Anastasio were injured.

Wodraska never saw Stubbs because she was behind the sliding glass door at the time, the Sheriff’s Office said.

D’Anastasio was arrested without incident on a charge of aggravated battery with a firearm.

The deputy was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation and later returned to duty, the Sheriff’s Office said. He received no discipline.

Times staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.