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2 suspects shot while driving at Polk County deputies after chase, Sheriff Judd says

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Posted at 10:45 AM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 10:53:44-05

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Two suspects caught during an armed burglary were shot early Friday morning when they attempted to drive at Polk County deputies, Sheriff Grady Judd said.

According to Judd, the incident started just after 12 a.m. in Hardee County. Judd said the suspects, identified as James Hillburn, 27, and Justin Norris, 25, fled from the Bowling Green Police Department after they were found in the middle of a burglary at a storage unit facility.

Judd said the suspects, who were armed with a gun that had an extended magazine, ran from police north on Highway 17 through Fort Meade. The police department continued to pursue them and asked for assistance from the sheriff's office, Judd said.

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Deputies began to box in the suspects as they ran until the suspects turned onto Prairie Industrial Parkway, which Judd described as a "one way in and one way out" street. Judd said Hillburn, who was driving, turned off the headlights.

Judd said as deputies tried to deploy stop sticks, the suspects turned around and drove toward the deputies.

"Our deputies are taught specifically — don't get in front of motor vehicles," Judd said. He added that the suspects drove "directly at" Lieutenant William "Billy" Strickland.

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"He's already driven through here one time, he knows there's no way out. So why does he drive at our deputies?" Judd said. "We can only surmise to kill the lieutenant and the other two deputies."

According to Judd, Lieutenant Strickland and the other two deputies, identified as Deputy Britton "Alex" Watson and Deputy Dylan Harrison, all immediately fired at the vehicle.

Hillburn was shot in the head and Norris was shot in the leg, Judd said. Hillburn is in the hospital and is expected to recover but sustained "significant injuries," according to Judd. Norris was treated then released and is now in custody at the county jail.

Judd said none of the deputies involved were injured.

According to the sheriff, the two suspects are "very dangerous" people with extensive criminal histories.

"They made conscious choices to drive toward deputies and ultimately they got shot," Judd said.

According to the sheriff's department, Hillburn, who is from Riverview, currently has three warrants with six total charges from other counties. They include charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (two counts), robbery, petit theft, battery domestic violence and failure to appear for battery domestic violence.

The department said Norris, from Dover, has an out-of-county warrant for failure to appear for burglary.

"They were placed in a position where they had no choice but to shoot, and they shot a lot - which is what I expect them to do if that's necessary to save their life," Judd said of his deputies.

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"We don't choose to shoot people, people choose for us to shoot at them," Judd added. "You can make sure our deputies are going to do everything we can to take you into custody peacefully. At the end of the day, they forced this circumstance, and if you force and circumstance on us we're going to protect ourselves. That's guaranteed."