PORT RICHEY — Dale Massad woke to the sound of an explosion and a gunshot. He gathered his wits and grabbed a pistol from beside his bed.
He opened the door to his second-floor bedroom, looked down the hallway and saw no one. Then, using skills honed as a big-game hunter, he fired two warning shots. One went into an elevator shaft to his right, and the other went straight ahead into a half-wall at the end of the hallway, before it turns right and goes down to his front door.
That's what lawyers for the former Port Richey mayor argue happened in the early morning hours of Feb. 21, when law enforcement officers showed up to serve a warrant at his home. Massad was arrested that day on charges of practicing medicine without a license and attempted murder.
Officers never were in danger, the attorneys said. Massad was just trying to deliver a message: "I'm armed — stay away," said Bjorn Brunvand, one of the lawyers.
Brunvand and his co-counsel, Denis deVlaming, invited reporters to Massad's Hayward Lane home on Friday to try to convince them it would have been impossible for their client to shoot toward deputies on a Pasco County Sheriff's Office SWAT team, as authorities allege.
Lawyers said they wanted to correct what they saw as inaccurate media coverage and let people watching from afar see what happened.
"We wanted you to be able to see what Dale Massad saw," said Brunvard.
Contacted afterward, Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia told the Tampa Bay Times: “Their analysis of the facts is different from ours.”
Massad, the subject of a months-long investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, resigned from office a day after his arrest, sparking what's become an implosion in city hall. Vice Mayor Terry Rowe took over the mayorship, but then was arrested on charges that he conspired with Massad to target a city police officer who went undercover for state agents. That officer received medical treatment from Massad, the state says.
The two lawyers took several reporters on a tour of Massad's spacious waterfront home. The front door is still busted up from a SWAT battering ram and shotgun blast. A big-game trophy head — two of many throughout the house — hangs inside on either side of the door.
The lawyers portrayed Massad as an average citizen defending his home from perceived intruders and a man who had been burglarized and was fearful of another break-in.
"I would suggest: No, it wasn't reckless," Brunvand said.
The attorneys dispute whether Massad even heard the knocks and calls from deputies outside that night.
To show their argument, the defense team split in two, with deVlaming sitting on Massad's bed with the bedroom door closed and Brunvand outside the house. Some reporters stood inside, with others outside.
Brunvand simulated what he said happened during the raid, pounding on the outside of the tall front doors.
From inside, the knocks came through as deep, dampened thuds — maybe more felt than heard.
"I can vaguely hear the pounding of the door," said deValming, "but then again, I'm awake."
It was about 4:40 a.m. when authorities came to the home in February, and Massad and his girlfriend were asleep, the lawyers said.
Sarabia laughed at Brunvand’s suggestion that Massad wasn’t reckless and that Massad was firing warning shots.
Had deputies been able to enter the home sooner than they did, Sarabia said, “they would’ve been in the line of fire.”
The Sheriff’s Office has said that its deputies knocked and announced their presence before taking a battering ram and then shooting at the door. Massad shot toward them after they deployed a flashbang device and tried entering the building, the agency says.
Massad and his companion didn't know whether the people from outside were real officers or "fake cops," said deVlaming.
For now, Massad remains jailed without bail. He has a court date scheduled for April 11.
Contact Justin Trombly at [email protected] Follow @JustinTrombly.