There are those who view violence as an end to itself, an act to be indulged for no reason other than its commission. For these men, the mere sight of an officer's uniform or patrol unit may be a clarion call to arms.
Kentin Dion Brooks was such an individual. But what compelled this man to take the fight to Florida police officers—to go literally and figuratively well out of his way to do so—remains a mystery.
Brooks' back story included a fledgling career as a hip-hop artist and promoter. And he also logged enough drug and weapons charges for the requisite street cred. But while his raps may have hinted at the man's capacity for violence, it may well have been a head injury that proved the tipping point in Brooks' making good on any such promise.
In early 2009, Brooks took part in an ill-considered nightclub brawl where he suffered a serious blow to the head. A series of severe headaches and blackouts plagued him for months thereafter, precipitating personality changes that made domestic life with the 26-year-old increasingly difficult. Brooks' volatility was such that on Oct. 28, 2009, his increasingly distraught wife drove him to St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg in the hopes that its staff might be able to treat him.
The hospital's staff never got the chance to help him.
"I'm fine," a curt Brooks advised the hospital admission staff. He exited the hospital's doors no better off than when he'd entered.
Ford Mustangs are designed to garner notice. But it wasn't the muscle car's contours or tinted windows that caught the attention of an Indian Shores, Fla., patrol officer at 10:30 that night. It was the danger its driver posed in weaving in and out of traffic and cutting off several other motorists.
Pulling in behind the Mustang, the officer attempted to stop it. But at the sight of the officer's takedown lights, the Mustang's driver sped up, precipitating a brief pursuit that the officer prudently canceled once speeds reached 90 mph.
The sight of a patrol car's image receding in the rear view mirror would have given most drivers cause for relief. But Brooks' reaction was different: If anything, the canceled pursuit seemed to provoke him.
Doubling back on Gulf Boulevard, Brooks resumed his campaign of vehicular terror, speeding up and cutting off motorists, turning his headlights on and off, and at one point even performing "donuts" in the middle of the roadway for the benefit of an officer who was stopped nearby.
Brooks' bid to put himself back on law enforcement's radar paid off-repeatedly. But each time an observing officer would put himself in pursuit, history would repeat itself with Brooks' dangerously high speeds resulting in another aborted chase.
What's His Game?
Pinellas County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office Sgt. Raymond Fleming monitored updates of the Mustang's back-and-forth progress over the radio, and wondered about the driver's plan. Reconciling the driver's actions with a possible motive wasn't easy; nothing fit with Fleming's professional frame of reference.
Dispatchers tried to contact the car's registered owner in a bid to determine whether the vehicle was stolen. For now, the identity of the Mustang's driver and what other threats might lie beyond its tinted windows remained a mystery. Rather than waste time trying to divine the driver's intent, Fleming and Sgt. Joseph Gerretz were committed to doing everything they could to get the Mustang stopped with minimal jeopardy to its driver, other motorists, or any personnel on scene. The officers developed a game plan that would allow for a sufficient number of patrol units to converge on the Mustang and isolate it.
Brooks' loop continued, proceeding southbound on Gulf Boulevard from the Park Boulevard bridge several miles to Madeira Beach, making a U-turn, and heading back again. As more area patrol units zeroed in on the Mustang, Fleming and Gerretz felt better about the prospect of preventing an innocent motorist from getting T-boned or otherwise injured by the Mustang's driver. Stop sticks were readied, and surveillance positions along the highway were taken by a variety of local law enforcement agencies. Collective intuition was that something was going to happen. But none of the officers knew what and when.
Brooks gave them an answer, intentionally ramming an Indian Shores' cruiser and taking off southbound on Gulf Boulevard. Having moved himself well beyond the threshold of misdemeanor offenses and into felony territory, Brooks had also given cops the grounds for a fully authorized pursuit.
To the north of Brooks' position, officers laid stop sticks. Patrol units fell in behind him.
The Mustang slowed down to 20 mph. And Brooks allowed officers to pool up behind him before coming to a stop in the middle of the road. If his windows weren't transparent, his motives were: He wanted an officer to walk up on him.
No one took the bait.
Frustrated, Brooks again hit the gas, returning to the Park Boulevard bridge where the four-lane highway narrowed to two.
Dep. Jeffrey Newman received a green light to perform a PIT maneuver and saw his opportunity. The PIT was executed perfectly; Newman's cruiser bumped the rear quarter panel of the Mustang and caused it to spin out and smash into the raised curb. One of its rear wheels spiraled off into the night and the Mustang came to a rest canted atop the sidewalk.
The driver's window of Brooks' car faced south toward the patrol units that had been pursuing him. Dep. John Randall's cruiser had the center position. Fleming stopped behind Randall, and moved up on foot to find a mere 30 feet separating the two cars. Abreast and to the right of Randall's unit, Dep. Greg Horton moved to the passenger side of his cruiser just in front of his recruit, Dep. Diana Bergman; behind them, an Indian Shores officer lined up his sights. To Randall's left was Indian Shores Sgt. Leo Yates.
The Mustang was disabled directly beneath a street light, any occupants effectively marooned. Caught up in the excitement, Dep. Randall started to dart forward when Dep. Horton called him back. His adrenaline in check, Randall jumped back in the driver's seat of his unit just as Fleming came abreast of him.
In a bid to see inside the Mustang, Fleming reached just inside the driver's door jam of Randall's patrol car to adjust the spotlamp. Randall reached for his shotgun.
The officers were surprised by a volley of gunshots that came through the driver's side window of the Mustang. Through the dark tint of the window, the officers could still not see their assailant.
The first round struck just left of the windshield rearview mirror on Randall's car, shattering it. Shards of glass peppered Fleming's face and insinuated themselves behind his driving glasses.
Dropping down, Fleming cleared the glass from his face just as another round flew over his head.
Two more rounds tore into Yates' car as Brooks continued a sweeping volley from his left to right. Dep. Horton-closest to the suspect-opened fire from the right. Sgt. Yates returned fire from the left.[PAGEBREAK]
Stepping outside his driver's door and in front of Fleming, Dep. Randall took aim with his Glock and fired a volley at the Mustang's driver's window. As Randall bent down to reload, Fleming pulled him back out of his field of fire and opened fire with his own Glock.
The side windows of the Mustang were blown out. Fleming could see nobody visible inside. Surmising that the suspect was reclined in his seat, he adjusted his aim a few inches below the window frame and put five rounds through the driver's door.
Silence and gun smoke descended over the scene. Maintaining his aim on the car, Fleming's peripheral vision let him know no good guys had been hit. Still, he was uncomfortable with how close he and his fellow officers had collectively positioned themselves to the Mustang. Fleming ordered everyone to move to the rear of the cars for better cover.
Backup arrived and Fleming relieved the officers who'd been involved in the firefight with others who assumed a tactical position behind the cars with long guns. A second group, led by Sgt. Jeffrey Esterline, situated themselves atop a nearby condo overlooking the terminus of the pursuit to get some eyes down inside the Mustang. A sheriff's department helicopter and units on the ground aimed spotlights into the car, but humidity conspired against them: The front windshield was fogged up and the rooftop observers could not see into the car.
Minutes passed by without any movement from inside the Mustang or response to repeated PA announcements. Fleming notified his captain, who directed an armored tactical vehicle to respond to the scene.
Observations from within the armored vehicle led personnel on scene to believe that the driver was deceased. Fleming led an arrest team armed with long rifles. They approached the driver's window and windshield from behind the safety of ballistic shields.
Brooks lay atop the reclined driver's seat, his head canted with a bullet wound visible to the rear of his ear. Seeing the gun still in his possession, the team retrieved it without incident. The gunman was pronounced dead at the scene.
Brooks' life had spun out of control long before his car did, and it is unlikely that even with the added advantage of knowing who Brooks was there would be an alternate conclusion to the night's events.
Sgt. Fleming's only misgiving about the tactics of the incident was the relative proximity of Brooks' vehicle to the deputies' cars at the terminus of the pursuit. But even this is understandable given the speeds and the officers' needs to react to its sudden conclusion. He notes that the deputies looked out for one another in more than one sense: Horton put the brakes on another deputy as he began moving up on the car, and both his and trainee Bergman's restraint in not succumbing to tunnel vision or firing while deputies were in their field of fire.
Thirty-nine rounds were fired by law enforcement in the span of a few seconds, seven of which found their target.
Fleming was pleasantly surprised with the performance of his agency's .45 ACP ammo and its success in penetrating the vehicle, which was evident in the video captured by one of the patrol car dash cams.
Brooks' own rounds had come dangerously close to each of the officers he
"He had put his seat down and was shooting up over the top of the door," says Fleming. "He emptied his gun while aiming just below the center of the overheads. And that first shot was perfect."
The gravity of the incident didn't set in for Fleming until the following morning. As he showered, he found a couple pieces of glass wedged in his scalp that he hadn't noticed before.
Fleming has since come to peace with the incident, and is proud of the professionalism of all involved.
"That night, I wanted to dictate where this was going to end and not let the suspect dictate where this was going to end," he reflects "We knew something was going to happen, we just didn't know what. But we took as much control away from him as we could, and came out on top despite not knowing what we were dealing with throughout the incident. We had nothing to go on."
Among the honors received by Sgt. Fleming and the other officers for their heroism that night was recognition from the Fraternal Order of Police, his agency's Combat Cross, and a Public Safety Award from the Pinellas County Commission. All of the officers involved continue to serve the citizens of Florida.