SEBRING - In a normally quiet neighborhood where apparently no one knew that two of their neighbors were suspected of being part of a large cocaine drug ring, two U.S. Marshal's Task Force members were shot Wednesday morning while executing an arrest warrant and dozens of law enforcement officers descended upon the area.
Neither member of the task force received life-threatening injuries and no one else was injured, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said. The execution of the warrant occurred after a federal grand jury indicted six people suspected of belonging to the drug ring that supplied thousands of kilograms of cocaine and ounces of crack cocaine to the Central Florida area, Benton said.
Paul Pearson Jr., a St. Lucie County deputy who was a special deputy U.S. Marshal, was shot in the shoulder, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said. He was treated at Florida Hospital and released, Mascara said.
A full-time U.S Deputy Marshal, whose name was not released, was shot in the hand and was to undergo surgery Wednesday afternoon at Florida Hospital, said Frank Chiumento, chief inspector for the Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Robin Jean Guillaume, 29, and Alex Guerrier, 29, the two suspects in the shooting, were arrested after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance:
Three of the four other suspects sought during the operation were also arrested. They also were charged in federal indictments with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance:
Alphonsia Joycelyn Maxime 23, Avon Park
Cleophas A. Brown, 43, Avon Park
Gibson LaPointe, 27, Avon Park
None of the suspects were injured, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said.
The Highlands County Sheriff's Office was working with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration through the local task force to identify a high level narcotics drug trafficking ring, Susan Benton said.
Members of the Task Force included DEA, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshal, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Sebring Police Department, Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office, St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, and the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
The incident happened about 6 a.m., off the Sebring Parkway, behind a senior center.
Benton said that members of the task force went to 2426 Cleveland Road and knocked on the door, announcing that they were law enforcement.
When they got no response, she said, they began to break open the door and once they accomplished that, "shots came at them from the inside."
Officers got the situation under control and "there was no resistance after they were able to take them into custody," she said.
Benton said a robot owned by the Florida Fire Marshal's Office was sent into the residence to determine if anyone else was inside. The robot has a camera and footage from it can be viewed remotely, she said.
Chiumento said that the warrant execution situations are becoming increasingly dangerous, although the task force is successful in the vast majority of circumstances in avoiding injuries.
"More and more of these violent felons who don't want to go back to jail want to shoot it out," he said.
Benton said there's no doubt in her mind that the suspects knew the people entering their home were law enforcement.
Residents of the area, including some who lived in the neighborhood for decades, said they've never seen so many law enforcement officers in their community.
"I heard what sounded like firecrackers and opened the front door and saw all the lights and decided to duck back in," said Bill Fannin, a neighbor who lives about three houses down and across the street from where the shooting took place. He said he's lived 15 years in the neighborhood and never witnessed anything like this.
One man who lived near the people suspected in the shooting said he had no problems with them.
"They're actually very nice neighbors," said the man, who declined to give his name." He added: "Their kids have played with my kids."
Melissa Fry, who lives about four houses away, said she heard shots, saw an ambulance arrive and then saw someone arrested. She said she didn't know the suspects in the case.
Another man, who did not give his name, but who has lived in the neighborhood for years, said he was upset to find that possibly someone was selling drugs nearby.
"We don't need that crap in our neighborhood," he said.