Flood Warning issued October 1 at 10:09AM EDT expiring October 4 at 2:00AM EDT in effect for: Sarasota
Former Hillsborough County deputy Tom Pettis faces charges for his involvement in a violent road rage incident.
Driver Evan Rees said Pettis pulled a gun on him and threatened kill him. Now he questions why the former homicide detective is facing only misdemeanor battery charges and not a felony.
"If this was anyone else wouldn't they be in jail? I mean he pulled a gun," Rees said.
Rees is infuriated and feels the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is protecting on of its own. Pettis is a 15 year employee.
"If you ask me, this seems shady," Rees said.
The Sheriff's Office is defending its actions. Col. Donna Lusczynski, one of its top commanders, said the staff was equally as stunned by Pettis’ alleged behavior.
"It was a shock. He was a good detective and handled a lot of big cases. And there was never an issue," Lusczynski said.
The incident happened in February. Rees said while driving home from the State Fair in February, Pettis rear-ended his car, started a fight, punched him and then, to his shock, pulled his gun.
Pettis wasn't taken into custody.
"Or internal investigators were out there that night taking part because of this serious allegation. We do not sweep this under the rug. There is no cover ups. If we have a bad apple, we want to get rid of that apple," said Lusczynski,
But Col. Lusczynski said they didn't have a chance. Pettis resigned before an internal affairs review. And deputies didn’t arrest him because she said Pettis claimed he feared for his life.
"Particularly where there are self-defense issues, we have to go through those extra diligently to make sure we are being accurate and following the law to the highest degree," said Lusczynski.
According to a letter from the State Attorney's Office, prosecutors did not believe they could have proved the former detective committed aggravated assault after reviewing cellphone video captured by a teenager at the scene.
They charged Pettis with a misdemeanor instead.
"This is not unusual. They have to prosecute the cases and know nuances of law," said Lusczynski.
Mark Cox, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's office said, "We reviewed the video and the evidence and we determined the appropriate charge of battery."
Although he resigned, Pettis may still be called to testify in some high profile murder cases.
Rees has wondered if the detective's position led to a more lenient charge.
"Absolutely not," said Cox. "He did no get any preferential treatment. It just did not warrant the charge”.
Rees is still not convinced.
"It seems wrong,” he said.
He also points to the cellphone video taken by the teenager. Deputies asked her to erase it. Rees said that raises serious questions.
When asked about that, Lusczynski said one way or another that video was going to be impounded and the deputies just gave the teen and her father an option. The teen's father actually pulled over to try and break up the fight.
"We did not want the potential of this video getting onto YouTube. We were trying to make sure that the witness did not get contaminated. It was erased with permission from the father and the juvenile. We did not make them or force them to do that," said Lusczynski.
The State Attorney's Office said they will make the video available.
Pettis has a mostly clean record with the Sheriff's Office. In 2002, a discourtesy charge was unsubstantiated. He received a letter of reprimand for failure to respond to a subpoena in 2004.