Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony is speaking out after a Florida Bulldog report detailed a 1993 incident where the 14-year-old Tony shot and killed a man in an altercation.
Tony says that incident was not disclosed to Gov. Ron DeSantis before he was appointed head of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) in 2019.
Tony was effectively acquitted in the incident, which left 18-year-old Hector Rodriguez dead. Though there are contemporaneous newspaper reports of the shooting at the time, Tony had thus far not spoken about the incident in public.
But Saturday, the Sheriff issued a statement to the Bulldog in response to the report. “When I was 14 years old, growing up in a neighborhood in Philadelphia filled with violence and gang activity, I shot an armed man in self-defense. The juvenile authorities reviewed my actions and cleared my name,” Tony said.
“This was the most difficult and painful experience of my life and I have never spoken of it publicly. I worked every day from that time forward to leave the violence that surrounded me in Philadelphia behind.”
Now, Tony is talking to Florida Politics in response to questions surrounding the incident.
A Philadelphia Daily News report shortly after the shooting said police were unaware of the motive. But the outlet cited “word on the street” to report that “some light-hearted joking between the two friends had turned ugly,” leading to the shooting.
Tony says he and Rodriguez were not friends.
“Hector Rodriguez lived in my neighborhood — he lived maybe a block away, but we were not friends,” Tony said.
“He was two or three years older than me. He always carried a gun, dealt drugs, and was involved in gun violence.”
The Philadelphia Daily News report cited the victim’s mother saying Rodriguez had made a joke about Tony’s uncles, which prompted Tony to go inside and retrieve his father’s gun.
Tony did concede there was an argument, but says Rodriguez pulled a gun first and made a threat.
“The day of the incident, Hector, my brother and I were all in front of our house when we got into an argument. At one point, he pulled his gun threatening us, saying he didn’t have any issues with shooting us there,” Tony said, before the story gets a bit fuzzier.
“I don’t remember the specific details, but I remember how scared I was when he chased me and my brother into our house, I ran to grab my father’s gun and fired it before Hector was able to shoot his gun. Both me and my brother left the house, as we were afraid his friends could retaliate. After ensuring there wasn’t an imminent threat for me and my brother, my dad took us both down to the police station, so we could give a statement of what had happened.”
That accounting is disputed by Rodriguez’ then-girlfriend, who was 17 at the time. Now 44, Maritza Carrasquillo told the Bulldog that Rodriguez was not armed.
“Hector didn’t have a weapon on him that I’m aware of, and I never saw him with a weapon,” she said.
Tony’s attorney argued he acted in self-defense. After successfully moving the case to juvenile court, Tony was found to be not at fault.
“Because of the disposition of the case there are no records,” Tony said. “To the best of my knowledge, no records remain and I have recently spoken to the attorney who represented me at the time and he doesn’t have any documents on the case either.”
The Bulldog was also unable to obtain those court records.
Responding to questions from Florida Politics, Tony says he has never disclosed the incident during his law enforcement career.
“I have never disclosed it, because I was never arrested,” Tony explained.
“Under Pennsylvania law, juveniles are not arrested, they go through a petition of delinquency. It never came up on my background checks or clearances, since I was a juvenile and I didn’t commit a crime, as it was self-defense.”
Tony extended that rationale through the Governor’s 2019 selection of Tony as Broward Sheriff.
“I did not disclose this specific incident to Governor DeSantis prior to his selection, but he is well aware of my past and how I grew up and how that prompted me to dedicate my life to service,” Tony said.
“I didn’t want to always be defined as the victimized teenager that had to shoot someone in self-defense. I wanted to be defined by my accomplishments as an adult. I have never mentioned it publicly, because of the reasons I explained before. I have since discussed it with him and he is aware of the incident.”
Tony did not directly answer whether he had any previous run-ins with law enforcement that have not been disclosed.
“I had many positive interactions with law enforcement growing up that made me realize the important role we play in a community. I chose to follow their path instead of falling into the violence in my neighborhood, and I have worked hard every day of my life to leave the past behind.”
Tony recalls his neighborhood — nicknamed the Badlands — being one of the rougher portions of Philadelphia during the 1990s.
“It was an extremely violent environment, the crack epidemic completely overruled the neighborhood,” Tony said.
“We all lived in very close proximity in small houses and gun violence was the norm of the day. I witnessed shootings, murders, drug dealing. I saw a good friend shot in the face, survived multiple home invasions, bullets coming through windows, and was at some point pistol whipped for my sneakers.
“I was afraid every day. It was unpredictable as to whether or not we were going to survive.”
The Sheriff says that experience drove him to escape, and he used the route of law enforcement to do so.
“The impact of this shooting was devastating for me, but it was also an eye-opening experience for me to get out. Many who didn’t, became another statistic for black men in my community ending up dead or in prison,” Tony explained.
“I was so committed to leaving, that I left Philadelphia with less than $500 and I never looked back. I didn’t know where Tallahassee was on a map and I had never been on a plane, but I knew that by working two jobs I could figure out a way to get there. I took a leap of faith to escape that environment.”
Tony is one of 11 candidates competing for the Sheriff’s role in 2020. His predecessor, Scott Israel, is part of that field as well. The two have been the top fundraisers in the contest, with Tony edging Israel by a $152,000 to $131,000 margin. No other candidate has topped $70,000 raised.
Israel has a polarizing history of his own as he seeks to get his job back. He was suspended due to BSO’s handling of the Parkland shooting and Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting. Israel came under fire after Deputy Scot Peterson, who was serving as the school resource officer on the day of the shooting, failed to confront the shooter. Investigations found several other BSO deputies also did not urgently enter the building.
The Florida Senate ultimately upheld that suspension and removed Israel by a 25-15 vote.
When asked by Florida Politics, Tony said the revelation of this incident would “absolutely not” affect his decision to seek election to the post in 2020.
“I understand how politics work and that this 27-year-old story is coming up in an effort to smear my name and damage my reputation,” Tony asserted.
“I took on this job to protect and serve this community and I am committed to continue doing so. Our accomplishments during the past 15 months are a clear indication of what can be done when you put law enforcement over politics. This community deserves better than political agendas and people seeking to benefit themselves.”
He continued, “This incident has never and will never impact my ability to do my job. If anything, I understand better the thousands that fall victim to gun violence each year. My background is what has inspired me to serve the community I love and always fight for justice. I am proud of the work we’ve done and I know we can continue serving the community.”