Man shot by deputies clings to faith amid depression, homelessness

Corey Perrine/Staff
Traffic passes along Airport Road South at Estey Ave. while members of the Collier County Sheriff's Department investigate a shooting that occurred Friday morning at a 7-Eleven Oct. 19, 2012, in Naples, Fla. A Collier deputy shot three to seven times at a man with a gun to his own head outside the convenience store.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Traffic passes along Airport Road South at Estey Ave. while members of the Collier County Sheriff's Department investigate a shooting that occurred Friday morning at a 7-Eleven Oct. 19, 2012, in Naples, Fla. A Collier deputy shot three to seven times at a man with a gun to his own head outside the convenience store.

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Video from NBC-2

Friday, Oct. 19 was one in a series of bad days for Duane Gregory as he sat behind an East Naples 7-Eleven with a Four Loko and a fake gun.

Drunk by his own admission, he said he remembers little of what happened before a Collier County sheriff's deputy in plain clothes approached him. The episode was like a silent movie, he said, where he saw the officer's mouth moving but heard no noise.

Then, bullets.

"The next thing I know, I'm being shot," Gregory said. "I thought I was being Tased."

Around a quarter to nine that morning, someone had called the Sheriff's Office to report a suspicious man sitting near a trash bin with a beer and a gun outside the convenience store at 1183 Airport-Pulling Road S.

Cpl. Charles Creamer and Cpl. Daniel Fano arrived minutes later. By their accounts, Gregory threatened them, and Fano opened fire.

Although at least two witnesses said Gregory had the gun pointed toward his own head, the 49-year-old was named on a warrant for two counts of assault on a law enforcement officer. He was arrested at the hospital and taken to jail 12 days later. Doctors told him it was a miracle he was alive.

It's been a while since Gregory has felt right with himself. He moved to Naples in 2003 and took a good-paying roofing job with job security — three hurricanes in 2004 certainly weren't bad for business, he said.

"Then, the economy took a dump," Gregory said.

With little work, he became homeless, spending stints at the St. Matthew's House shelter just blocks from where he would later be shot. He was picked up on a handful of misdemeanor charges like trespassing and retail theft beginning in 2007. He was featured in a Wall Street Journal article about the economic crash a few years back.

His drinking, which had ramped up considerably since his move to Naples, became more problematic, and he began getting help through the Justin's Place recovery program, a nine-month, faith-based regimen with St. Matthew's.

But the program didn't work out the way he intended, and Gregory, who has an associate's degree in architectural drafting, sunk into greater depression. In July, he said he was hit by a car, damaging his pelvis and making it hard for him to walk.

And so on that Friday morning, Gregory found himself a few drinks deep and the new owner of a fake gun he said he'd found underneath a bridge behind a DMV.

"I think at that time, I wished it was real," he said. When the deputy fired at him, "I thought, maybe I'll get my wish."

Between the alcohol and the haze of depression, he cannot say for sure what happened in the time between finding the gun and feeling bullets rip through his skin. But he knows one thing: "I just felt so lost. I knew it was not my intention ever to harm or hurt anyone."

All things considered, Gregory was in decent spirits at the Naples Jail Center earlier this week as he waited to transfer from the infirmary to general population. He said he plans to enter a recovery program upon his release and said he is visited regularly by a pastor who has been helping him work through his troubles.

"I don't have a drinking problem; I have a thinking problem," he said. "The way I feel before I take that first drink, I wouldn't wish on anybody."

Gregory said his two grown daughters do not know what happened to him; he is embarrassed at the thought of them finding out. And the things he has heard others say about him are not encouraging either.

Jail employees, he said, have referred to him as "Swiss Cheese" for the bullet holes that scar him. At his first appearance hearing, "there were a lot of whispers when I came up: 'This is that capias case.'" The judge, he said, "tried to convict me already."

But Gregory said he has no hard feelings toward the deputies and remains insistent that he meant no threat.

"I'm not mad, and I don't know what hate is," he said. "I would like to believe that they believed totally that they had no other choice, which I don't."

A Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said neither Fano nor Creamer had undergone crisis intervention team (CIT) training, which helps officers deal with situations involving people with mental health issues. An internal investigation against the deputies is pending, but the men were returned to their normal duties Oct. 22.

Having survived the car wreck and the shooting, Gregory said he believes there is purpose for him, so long as he can return to and cling to his faith.

"Right now, I'm Swiss Cheese. I'm no longer Duane," he said. "It's a horrible feeling. I had tears in my eyes when I heard it.

"I want to be Duane again. I want to be that person that's back on top of the world again."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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