Man shot near ASO is facing 4 charges

July 30. 2003 5:03PM

Lise Fisher
SUN STAFF WRITER



Gainesville-area man remained hospitalized Tuesday after deputies say he brandished two knives the night before, charged at them and was shot outside the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Steve Oelrich has called the shooting involving Robert Michael Duke, 45, a possible case of "suicide by cop."

Duke now faces four counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. A bond was set at $50,000 for Duke, who underwent surgery at Shands at the University of Florida after the shooting. Sgt. Keith Faulk described Duke's condition as "touch and go" Tuesday and said he was in a drug-induced coma and could not give a statement to deputies. On Monday, local law enforcement agencies were notified that Duke intended to harm himself. Deputies, who later learned that he was coming by the Sheriff's Office to see an employee, planned to contact him, evaluate his mental status and, depending on what happened, possibly place him in custody or have him receive mental health evaluation in accord with the Baker Act. Instead, the situation escalated when Duke armed himself after deputies approached him and, they say, threatened them, forcing them to shoot.

Four shots were fired at Duke with gunfire apparently hitting him three times, once in each leg and again in the torso, Faulk said.

Armed with two knives, one with a 4-inch blade and the other described as being similar to a machete with a 12-inch blade, deputies say they tried to speak with Duke inside the Sheriff's Office Monday night. He went outside followed by deputies, retrieved the knives from his motorcycle and lunged at them, deputies said. Five deputies, including a negotiator, were outside with Duke, Faulk said. One deputy tried twice to use a Taser gun on him. But both attempts to stop him with the Taser failed and he charged at two deputies who then fired at him. "They are just giving repeated commands. He refuses all the commands," Faulk said. "The weapons are drawn. He knows that they mean business. He wasn't running away. He was running after them. They essentially were forced to defend themselves and defend each other."

Duke's mother refused to comment on her son or the incident. Duke has 17 previous arrests in Alachua County and has been convicted of retail and petty theft, trespassing, carrying a concealed weapon and several counts of driving with a suspended or revoked license, Alachua County court and deputies' records show. Faulk said Duke came to the Sheriff's Office about 6:15 p.m. to drop off a car part to a woman he knows who works at the agency. "We were made aware that he was coming down and were made aware of his mental capacity previously in the day. It just worked to our advantage to contact him at the Sheriff's Office where we have manpower and more equipment and more utilization of resources," Faulk said. Although the deputies' actions have been described as a self-defense scenario, the Office of Professional Standards at the Sheriff's Office per the agency's protocol is conducting an internal investigation into whether the shooting was justified. A criminal investigation also is under way.

In the meantime, Detective Jody Branaman and Deputy Pete Briggette, the two who shot at Duke, remain on paid administrative leave. Investigators briefed prosecutors on the case Tuesday. Faulk said it's expected the internal investigation will be completed this week. It then likely will be presented to State Attorney Bill Cervone, who will review the findings and determine if the case should be brought before a grand jury. The incident was videotaped by cameras at the Sheriff's Office, but deputies did not release the tape, citing the ongoing investigations. The shooting also was witnessed, Faulk said, by officers, agency employees and others passing by the building off Hawthorne Road.

"They really had no alternative," Faulk said about the deputies' actions. "You can't second-guess somebody coming at you with a knife."

The last incident using deadly force involving the Alachua County Sheriff's Office took place in March 2002 when a deputy shot and killed a man who rushed at him while carrying a samurai sword. A grand jury cleared the deputy of any criminal wrongdoing in the case.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@ gvillesun.com.

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Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.