High Surf Advisory issued January 24 at 3:00AM EST expiring January 25 at 1:00AM EST in effect for: Pinellas
A Sebring teacher involved in a roadside fight with a former Hillsborough County detective plans to take the case to the governor, the only official who can appoint a special prosecutor in the case.
Evan Rees wants an outside prosecutor to investigate the case after learning Thomas Pettis, the former detective, faces a misdemeanor charge in the Interstate Four fight.
Pettis began fighting with Rees after rear-ending him on I-4 in February. The former homicide detective drew his gun during the altercation, which was caught in cellphone video.
"I'm blown away," Rees said of the charge Pettis received.
The State Attorney’s Office said it stands by its decision to charge Pettis with a misdemeanor.
"We have no intention of getting off case. We fairly evaluated the evidence and applied the law. We don't have a conflict of interest legally or ethically, " said spokesperson Mark Cox.
In an exclusive interview with Action News, Pettis said he just wants to move on.
"It is a nightmare for me, my wife, for my daughter. Just when it seems likes it getting better, it gets worse," Pettis said.
Pettis admits he hit the back of the car that Rees rode. He said he tried to get the driver of the car to a safe place on I-4.
He disagrees with the characterization of the incident as a “road rage” case.
“This was not road rage,” he said. “There was no anger. There was no resentment. I caused the accident.”
He said Rees became “irate.”
“It was when he started to be belligerent towards my daughter – as a father I had to stand up, " Pettis said.
Pettis said he never spoke to the State Attorney's Office after the violent confrontation.
"Whatever the decision they made was made without any input from me,” he said.
Pettis said sheriff’s internal affairs investigators interviewed him for six hours after the incident. He said the facts speak for themselves.
Rees thinks Pettis got preferential treatment, especially after learning he was a lead homicide detective on cases still pending.
"If it was me, would I have gone to jail by pulling out a weapon and brandishing it like that?" he asked.
Cox said prosecutors reviewed all the evidence in the case, including hours of witness testimony.
"Mr. Pettis absolutely did not get preferential treatment,” he said. “This case did not warrant a battery charge."
Pettis was off duty when the confrontation occurred. A large crowd gathered as they fought, and he said he worried about this gun in his ankle holster.
"A gun in an ankle holster is not always as secure. A large crowd had gathered and later on I learned they were good Samaritans trying to break up the fight," said Pettis.
"I was worried about my gun not being secure,” he said. “I reached down to grab my firearm to hold on to it because now we are rolling around on the ground, and I do not have control of that firearm.”
He then pointed it at Rees because he felt threatened but then immediately showed his badge.
"I became concerned. There is a lot of people out there now. He is extremely violent at me," Pettis said. "I don't remember the exact verbiage. But I told them to stand back, stand back. I may have said ‘I'll shoot. I'll shoot.’ It was a very high-stress situation."
Pettis resigned amid an internal affairs investigation.
He has entered in a first-time offender program administered by the Salvation Army.
If he completes it, the charges will be dropped.