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October 03, 2007
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Suspect hitting Fla. deputy with car shows danger of undercover work

By Jerome Burdi
The Sun-Sentinel

GREENACRES, Fla. An ex-convict, already arrested 15 times, is headed back to jail for allegedly striking a deputy with his car after a drug sting.

Deputies stormed Thomas Burgess' car after he sold $200 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover agent Sept. 19 in the parking lot of Paul's Motel, on Lake Worth Road, the Sheriff's Office said.

Burgess, 22, screamed a curse, put his 2008 Kia in reverse and stepped on the gas, investigators said.

The car spun violently out of control and hit a deputy, knocking him unconscious, investigators said. Fellow deputies opened fire on Burgess, hitting him in the arm, as he tried to escape, the Sheriff's Office said.

Burgess was still in the hospital Tuesday. His wounds are not life-threatening, deputies said, and he will be taken to the Palm Beach County Jail when he's discharged.

Drug stings can be a risky business, police around the county said. But it's a necessary risk, even in the current climate of violence against law enforcement, police say.

In drug stings, a police officer poses as either the buyer or seller. He wears no bullet-resistant vest; in some cases, he carries no gun.

And the arrests do not always go as planned.

In August 2005 in a West Palm Beach motel parking lot, Jupiter Police Officer Paul Bruno shot and killed Donovan Brooks, 40, during an undercover drug sting, thinking Brooks was armed and reaching for a weapon. Though Brooks was unarmed, the State Attorney's Office cleared Bruno of any wrongdoing. Criminals are unpredictable, police say.

"When you panic, there's no telling what you might do," Delray Beach Police Lt. Javaro Sims said. "They'll do whatever means necessary to escape. We'll have cops get punched in the face."

Because drugs lead to violence and many times result in homicide, stings are important, police say.

"The other alternative is to have open-air drug dealing in the counties and the cities," West Palm Beach Police Lt. Tom Wills said.

Stings can go awry when criminals try to rob the undercover cop, said Richard Mangan, a criminal justice professor at Florida Atlantic University and a former police officer and federal drug agent.

"A lot of times the crook thinks this guy is a crook, and a lot of times they are going to try to rip you off, even when you think you've got a good situation," Mangan said. "You have to sit back and say, 'How else are we going to do it?' Sometimes there are alternatives, but undercover work is sometimes a necessity."

In the case of Burgess, who was unemployed and lived in Lake Worth, he had been released from prison in April after serving 10 months of a 1 1/2-year sentence on a drug sale and fleeing-and-eluding conviction, state records show.

"He didn't want to go to jail," said Capt. Karl Durr of the sheriff's narcotics division. "He would have been charged with the sale of cocaine. It would have been minimal, compared to the [current] charges."

Burgess was charged with aggravated battery on an officer, aggravated assault on an officer and resisting arrest with violence. He also was charged with the sale of cocaine and being a habitual driver with a suspended license. His driving record shows several violations for failing to pay fines.

The screams and crashing startled the guests staying at the $62- to $66-a-night motel in the 5400 block of Lake Worth Road.

"I heard a car crash and I heard shouting saying, 'Get down, get down,' " said Cameeishiah Evans, 19, who was visiting from St. Petersburg with her 4-month-old and staying at the motel. "I jumped on the ground with my baby. It was just scary."

In the end, deputies were grateful they didn't have a police officer's funeral to attend.

"We ... have this whole series of incidents where criminals are taking aggressive actions, willing to use deadly force against law enforcement," sheriff's spokesman Paul Miller said. "If we're facing deadly force, we're going to use deadly force."

Copyright 2007 Sun-Sentinel

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