The video that had been confiscated by Florida deputies showing one of their own pulling a gun after a road rage incident was finally released today.
And it shows Hillsborough County homicide detective Tom Pettis getting manhandled by the man he attacked as several witnesses pull the man off.
Flustered and embarrassed, Pettis pulls out a gun from an ankle holster as a frantic 13-year-old girl video records from inside a car.
“Oh my God, he’s got a gun. Oh my God, he’s got a gun. Tell dad to get in the car,” the girl is saying.
Her father was one of several people who pulled over to the side of the road after Pettis rammed his car into into the back of Evan Rees’ car, causing the back window to shatter.
Seconds after impact, Pettis stormed out of the car and wrestled Evan Rees to the ground.
The video begins with Rees on top of Pettis as several people are pulling him off.
It also shows Pettis waving a gun around and at one point, aiming it towards something off-screen in front of him.
And it shows him running towards Rees, through a crowd of witnesses to punch him but that part was out-of-frame because the girl was recording vertically and there was obstruction from inside the car as well.
But it’s evident from everybody’s reaction – as well as everybody’s statements – that he did strike Rees. And judging by Rees’ body language before the punch, it appears as if he is saying that Pettis had already struck him in the face.
And the photo below confirms it.
But despite all that, responding deputies did their best to coverup for Pettis.
First they confiscated the girl’s video, ordering her to delete it once they had a copy because they didn’t “want it to get out through social websites,” according to the Tampa Bay Times who broke the story last week.
Then the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office decided to go easy on him.
Pettis’ brandishing of a handgun could meet the statutory definition of aggravated assault with a firearm, a felony punishable by a prison sentence of at least three years and up to five. Yet he is only being prosecuted for misdemeanor battery, a charge that qualifies him for pretrial intervention programs and the avoidance of criminal penalties.
Prosecutors, following what some say is a tenuous line of legal reasoning, asserted that Pettis pointed the gun at Rees in self-defense, even though the detective initiated the conflict and the fight was already broken up when he drew his weapon.
The conduct of the Sheriff’s Office also raises questions.
Despite being the only suspect in a felony criminal investigation, Pettis was never booked into the county jail, sparing him the humiliating ritual in which ordinary citizens see their mug shots land on the Internet.
Pettis was also allowed to resign quietly, which would have allowed him to take on a law enforcement job anywhere else.
So good job, Tampa Bay Times, for exposing this story as well as getting them to release the video even after initial denials.