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Affidavit sheds more light on shooting of Spring Hill teen by deputy

SPRING HILL — Hernando sheriff's Deputy Ramona Fuhs didn't have time to get out of her patrol car before Joseph Berrios started to attack her, authorities say.

Within moments, Fuhs fired her service weapon at the 18-year-old Nature Coast High School senior, wounding him, according to the Sheriff's Office. He is charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, a third-degree felony, and remained hospitalized Friday.

An arrest affidavit provides more details about what happened on Candler Avenue shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday.

That's when Berrios, a standout linebacker for Nature Coast, crossed paths with the highly praised but still relatively new deputy.

The first deputy to respond to a call about a "an irrational person," Fuhs pulled her marked patrol car onto Candler, according to the affidavit.

Fuhs, 41, saw Berrios near the 4000 block. As she tried to get out of the car, the affidavit states, Berrios approached the driver's side, grabbed the door and hit her with it.

"While (Fuhs) remained partially in the vehicle, Berrios used his strength to push and pull the door to strike (her)," the affidavit states. "(Fuhs) was able to remove herself from the vehicle and attempted to retreat from (Berrios). However, Berrios continued beating and striking (her) about the head and neck."

The affidavit does not mention the shooting or say whether Berrios was armed. It states that Fuhs was taken to the hospital complaining of neck and shoulder injuries. She was treated and placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure.

The Sheriff's Office has declined to provide more information as it conducts an internal affairs investigation. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating the shooting. A department spokesman declined to comment.

It was still unclear Friday whether anyone witnessed the altercation and shooting. On Thursday, neighbors told the Times they heard shots and saw Fuhs standing over Berrios with her weapon drawn, yelling for him not to move.

Berrios was also shouting something about "Nature Coast" and "NTC," one neighbor said.

Berrios was still in Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson on Friday afternoon, said Brooksville lawyer Peyton Hyslop. James and Barbara Berrios hired Hyslop to represent their son.

The couple told Hyslop that one bullet shattered a bone in the teen's leg; another struck him in the leg and buttocks. Hyslop said Berrios was awake Friday and asking for food.

The teen does not have a criminal record. On Friday, County Judge Donald Scaglione lowered his bail from $10,000 to $2,500. His parents posted the bail, Hyslop said.

Hyslop said he had not met with Berrios by Friday afternoon, and his parents had not had a chance to talk with him about the shooting, either. Hyslop has advised the family not to speak with reporters, but he has shared their account of what happened leading up to the shooting.

Berrios was hanging out at a friend's house about four or five blocks from his own on Dristol Avenue when he started acting strangely. The friend called Berrios' mom and asked her to come get him, Hyslop said.

When his mother arrived, Berrios pointed to the sky and said he could see heaven, Hyslop said. He refused to leave, so she left to go get her husband. In the meantime, the couple called 911 because they felt their son needed to be taken into protective custody.

Before they returned, Berrios started walking and, shortly after, was shot.

Doctors changed the teenager's medication a week ago, the family told Hyslop's office staff. He has declined to elaborate.

The arrest affidavit raises questions, Hyslop said.

If Berrios attacked Fuhs as she tried to get out of the car, why didn't she get back in and wait for backup to arrive?

"Why would anyone get out of their car in an attempt to retreat?" he asked.

In physical terms, Berrios would likely have the upper hand. He is 5-foot-11 and weighs about 180 pounds. According to her personnel file, Fuhs is 5-foot-5 and about 125 pounds.

A Springstead High graduate, Fuhs has worked about 30 months as a full-time deputy over two periods of employment at the Sheriff's Office.

She joined the agency in April 2007 and left 16 months later for personal reasons, an application shows. She returned as a reserve deputy in June 2011 and was hired full time in November of that year.

In a performance evaluation from last October, Fuhs earned an overall "meets standard," but was marked as "exemplary" in a few categories, including contact with the public and assisting other deputies.

Sgt. Gerard Schneider described her as "kind" and "caring."

Fuhs has no blemishes on her record and has not been the subject of an internal affairs inquiry before this week, the Sheriff's Office said.

Last July, Sheriff Al Nienhuis granted her request to work about 20 hours a work at Bushido Martial Arts Supply, the Spring Hill store she owns with her husband, Steve Fuhs. She could not be reached Friday.

Fuhs is pursuing a degree in criminology and has expressed interest in a temporary assignment working property crimes in the investigations division, Lt. Peter Ciucci told the Times on Friday.

"She's definitely a future shining star," Ciucci said.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431.

Affidavit sheds more light on shooting of Spring Hill teen by deputy 03/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:33pm]
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