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Hillsborough County deputy suspended for 'negligently' firing gun during a 2018 undercover operation

Woman shot during undercover gun-buy files suit against deputy, Hillsborough Sheriff
Posted at 10:48 PM, Jul 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-15 22:31:23-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A woman who was shot by a Hillsborough County deputy in 2018 during an undercover gun-buy filed suit against the deputy and Sheriff Chad Chronister on Friday, alleging battery, negligence and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

ABC Action News has uncovered HCSO suspended the deputy, at the center of the lawsuit, for not following their gun use procedures.

According to the lawsuit, Racquel Sanchez, who was 19 at the time, was a "fully compliant, non-resisting investigatory detainee" when she was shot by Hillsborough Deputy Dean Greene.

The intention of the undercover operation was to buy a suspected stolen firearm from Sanchez's then boyfriend, Roberto Rivera. Rivera, who was also shot, faced 14 total charges following the operation including multiple drug charges and felony firearm possession.

HCSO says Sanchez did not face criminal charges.

According to the lawsuit, the action plan for the operation included two undercover deputies parked in an unmarked car, a five-member tactical team and additional deputies present on the scene as the "rescue team."

Greene was part of the five-member tactical team, which was separated in two cars. Greene was with another investigator in one vehicle, while the three additional deputies were in the second vehicle.

The suit says Greene and the investigator were assigned to secure any occupants remaining in Rivera's vehicle as he was being arrested by the other three deputies.

The two undercover deputies parked at the prearranged location and waited for Rivera to arrive.

Sanchez was driving with Rivera in the front seat and another man in the back seat. According to the lawsuit, deputies knew through prior communications that Rivera would be with other people.

When they parked, Rivera got out of the car, got the firearm from the trunk and then got into the unmarked car with the undercover deputies.

A short time later, the lawsuit says the undercover deputies signaled for the arrest of Rivera. Greene, who was monitoring the signal, gave the go-ahead to the waiting tactical team.

The undercover deputies then exited the vehicle as three deputies ran to it to arrest Rivera, according to the suit.

At the same time, Greene and an investigator ran to Sanchez's car "for the purpose of detaining but not arresting its occupants" in an effort to secure the scene while Rivera was arrested, the suit says.

Greene was armed with his personally owned, but sheriff approved Colt AR-15 rifle, according to the suit.

Greene and the investigator pointed their weapons at Sanchez and the other passenger, commanding them to show their hands. The lawsuit states Sanchez stayed in the driver's seat, complied with commands and raised her hands outside the vehicle as commanded.

"...She otherwise remained utterly still," the lawsuit says.

The suit says at that time, Sanchez was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. It argues that upon her compliance with commands and the use of their firearms Greene and the investigators "...became responsible for all reasonable care and custody of Ms. Sanchez. From that point, defendant Greene had a duty of all reasonable care to his detainee, Ms. Sanchez. The duty of reasonable care and custody of a detainee includes protection from all intentionally inflicted and unreasonably imposed harmful acts," the suit says.

The suit says Greene fired his weapon as he closed the distance between the vehicle he was in and Sanchez's. The round went through the driver's door, into Sanchez's outer left thigh and out through her inner left thigh.

The lawsuit states the distance between the investigators car and the front of Sanchez's car was about 20 yards.

"As he covered that distance on foot, Greene discharged his firearm once. The discharge occurred at one of the very few moments during his movement along the left side of her car that the round could have struck Ms. Sanchez," the suit says.

After Greene's shot, the lawsuit says one of the other deputies discharged his weapon, hitting Rivera. The suit says that deputy mistook Greene's shot as one from Rivera.

Greene provided Sanchez medical care before she was taken to an ER for more urgent care.

After the incident, the lawsuit says Greene told another Hillsborough County Sheriff’s investigator that Sanchez was "non-compliant." Greene said Sanchez lifted her hands up then back down, claiming she was "possibly reaching for something," according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, there were no weapons present inside her car.

"In so explaining his actions, defendant Greene indicated that the discharge of his firearm was intentional," the suit says.

The lawsuit claims surveillance video captured at a nearby Mister Car Wash shows that Sanchez was "immediately compliant" with the commands. It also claims Sanchez suffered permanent injury from the shooting, saying she suffers from "foot drop," a condition caused by the inability of the nerves in her leg to control the muscles that lift and lower her foot.

"Ms. Sanchez suffers, and continues to suffer, continuing pain and discomfort from the gunshot and the nerve damage it caused. Ms. Sanchez has permanent scarring at the entry and exit wound in her left thigh, a permanent deficiency in her normal gait, and permanent limitations on her physical activities," the suit reads.

Greene was investigated after the incident. ABC Action News obtained a copy of Greene's notice of discipline. It shows he was suspended for three days after "you negligently discharged your firearm during the lawful execution of your legal duties," read the form. He was also required to undergo remedial firearms training, according to the suit.

“Police officers handle firearms on an on-going basis that kind of negligence doesn’t manifest itself very often," said Jeffrey Swartz, legal analyst for ABC Action News.

Sanchez is suing Greene in his individual capacity for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

"The application of objectively unreasonable force, whether intentionally inflicted or unreasonably imposed, upon a compliant investigatory detainee violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure, and is actionable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983," the suit says.

She is also suing Sheriff Chronister in his official capacity for battery, negligence and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

"Defendant Greene’s constitutional violation was caused by defendant Chronister’s failure to train his deputies in the safe and appropriate use of deadly force, a subject upon which defendant Chronister knows to a moral certainty is necessary for avoiding constitutional deprivations like the one Racquel Sanchez suffered. This failure to train was a moving force in the constitutional deprivation, and constituted an official policy, custom, and usage," the suit says.

However, Swartz believes it may be a long shot for Sanchez to win citing the difficulties in brining a succesful excessive force lawsuit against law enforcement.

“There really has to be some purposeful conduct on the part of the police officers. I don’t see that here," he said.

It's not the first time a gun-buy operation has taken a turn. In January, 2018 an undercover detective was robbed at gunpoint. In November before that a drug dealer pointed a gun to a deputy's head.

To read the full lawsuit, click here.

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