7-Eleven at Estey Avenue and Airport Road
COLLIER COUNTY — Truck driver Rich Daniel was starting his shift Friday at the St. Matthew’s House Thrift Store when he heard three gunshots outside the store.
“Bang, bang, bang, right in a row like that,” Daniel said.
Witnesses said the shots came from a Collier County sheriff’s deputy who fired three to seven times at Duane Alan Gregory, 49, just before 9 a.m. as Gregory held a gun to his own head outside the 7-Eleven at Estey Avenue and Airport Road. Gregory, a transient, was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital, where authorities said he was stable mid-Friday.
An investigation revealed Gregory’s gun was not real, Sheriff’s Office officials said.
Bob Johnson, an employee at the Scott Paint store across the street, said he was getting coffee at the 7-Eleven when he saw the deputy draw his gun. Johnson said Gregory held a gun to his head, cocked it and then put it back to his head.
That’s when the deputy “unloaded on him six times, maybe more, maybe seven,” said Johnson, who identified himself as a former law enforcement officer in Jersey City, N.J.
Johnson said he was unable to hear any conversation between the two men.
“Personally, I’m disgusted ... I understand you have an obligation as a police officer to stop that guy from harming himself,” Johnson said. But “one, the gun was always pointed at the self-inflicted person there, and two, why shoot the guy six times?”
Another witness, Bill Shea, who appeared to have been watching longer than Johnson, said he was having breakfast on a picnic bench across the street when he saw Gregory flailing his arms, yelling “maniacally” and spinning around, holding something silver.
Shea said Gregory moved the silver object to his head, and the deputy walked up and yelled something like “put the gun down.” When the man wouldn’t comply, Shea said, the deputy opened fire.
“Had I been that deputy, I’d have been in fear for my own safety,” said Shea, who heard three or four gunshots.
Deputies first were called to the 7-Eleven at 8:48 a.m. after someone called about a suspicious man with a gun sitting and drinking beer near a Dumpster behind the store, the Sheriff’s Office reported. Two deputies arrived at 8:54, at which point Sheriff’s Office authorities said Gregory “threatened the deputies and one of the deputies shot the man.”
Capt. Chris Roberts declined to provide the deputies’ names, details of how Gregory threatened the deputies or the number of shots fired.
“The two-fold test for use of deadly force is if a person presents what is considered to be the threat of death or great bodily harm to the deputy or the public, or if the deputy’s failure to take action will likely result in death or great bodily harm to that deputy, (other) deputies or the public,” he said.
Roberts said the Sheriff’s Office will continue to investigate before turning the case over to the State Attorney’s Office. The deputies involved are on administrative leave, as is customary.
Roberts said he didn’t know if the two deputies had crisis-intervention team training, which helps officers deal with people with mental health complications.
Many people don’t realize that most officers trained in deadly force are trained to stop a threat, said James Drylie, a former law enforcement officer of 25 years who has been researching officer-involved shootings and so-called “suicides-by-cop” since the early 2000s.
“Officers are not trained to shoot weapons out of hands, or shoot the knee or foot. They’re trained to shoot center mass,” said Drylie, executive director of the school of criminal justice and public administration at Kean University in Union, N.J. “These are officers making a decision in milliseconds, and they have to work with the fluid dynamic of all that.”
Gregory has been in and out of St. Matthew’s House since 2006, said Vann Ellison, the homeless shelter’s president. The last time Gregory stayed at the shelter, which has a sobriety requirement, was in 2011. Gregory, who suffered addiction problems, never stayed for more than a couple of months. When he was there, Ellison said he was well-known and helpful.
“When he’s sober, he’s a good guy,” Ellison said. “I know a lot of people who have struggled with addictions, and it’s sad to see that he would throw himself in harm’s way like that.”
Ellison, who has a background in law enforcement, said he empathizes with the deputy.
“I know they train people for instances when people will attempt suicide-by-cop,” Ellison. “It’s difficult for a deputy to go through this because his character comes into question ... In a situation when a man has a gun, you can’t always tell if it’s a pellet gun, a toy gun or a real gun, you assume with an adult it’s a weapon.”
Although Gregory last listed St. Matthew’s House as an address, his actions shouldn’t reflect on the shelter, Ellison said.
“We’re not responsible for what someone does when he’s not in our care,” he said.
Ellison said he hadn’t heard from Gregory since he stayed at the shelter last year.
“People who come to us don’t come because they’re doing so well in life — they’re troubled and are having a difficult time,” Ellison said. “We see people make great turnarounds, but mental illness and addictions are pervasive, lifelong struggles and we see people falling back on a dangerous, ugly pattern. It’s heartbreaking to see.”
The last deputy-involved shooting in Collier County was in April, when off-duty Cpl. Kenneth Vila shot a 20-year-old neighbor who Vila said tried to break into his Golden Gate Estates home and then attacked him.
In November 2008, deputies shot Jose David Giracca after the 30-year-old rode a bicycle toward the Gulfgate Plaza in East Naples and pulled out a handgun while the deputies were conducting a traffic stop. Giracca’s gun was later determined to be a realistic-looking pellet gun.
Giracca survived the shooting and was sentenced to three years in state prison for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.