Fifteen or 20 minutes before he got shot by three Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies after he brandished a gun from the passenger seat of his car in his driveway last July, Steven Barneski had a “gut feeling” that there’d be trouble.
He and his wife Ashley Barneski had been driving home that night–Ashley was at the wheel of their Toyota four-door–when they noticed a gray Dodge Challenger behind them. Barneski has had many run-ins with cops. He thought the unmarked Challenger was a police car.
It was: the Flagler County Sheriff’s Detective Austin Chewning was at the wheel, detective Jayd Capela was in the passenger seat. They were preparing to serve a warrant on Barneski, for a probation violation allegation. They’d just left a nearby park in west Flagler where they’d devised a plan to serve the warrant with sheriff’s deputies David Lichty, Kyle Gaddie, Gibson Smith and Jennifer Prevatt. The deputies were following Chewning’s Challenger.
It was just past 11 p.m. the night of July 1. At some point Chewning and Capela noticed Barneski’s Toyota pulling in front of them. Prevatt, one of several deputies who’d had previous dealings with Barneski, radioed that she thought it was Barneski’s car. Chewning and Capela initiated a traffic stop, their justification being the Toyota’s obstructed tag. Ashley Barneski kept driving the short distance to her driveway at 6262 Sable Palm Street.
“I have a bad feeling,” Barneski, 30, told his wife, according to an account reconstructed by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of the shooting that followed. “If something happens to me, sue these mother fuckers.”
Minutes later, Barneski sat bleeding from deputies’ gunshots to his right arm, his left thigh, the back of his head, and two wounds to his abdomen, and still, he held on to his Barretta M9A1 firearm, holding the nuzzle against his chin. He wanted to kill himself. For several minutes, the detectives and deputies pleaded with him to put down the gun and throw it away so they could bring in paramedics and help him. Chewning and Prevatt, who knew him most, kept speaking to him. In the end, it was because he’d known them for a long time, Barneski would tell an FDLE investigator, and because he loved his wife, that he finally complied. Prevatt was first to help him out.
The details of the only officer-involved shooting involving the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office since 2012, revealed here for the first time, are part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation of the July 1 shooting, concluded last Nov. 24. On Jan. 27, after reviewing the investigation, State Attorney R.J. Larizza told FDLE that “no further action is warranted by this office,” essentially clearing the sheriff’s deputies and detectives of any wrongdoing. FlaglerLive obtained the FDLE investigation this week.
Barneski was right about his bad feeling. But what he had not told his wife was why: he was still illegally carrying the gun she had told him to get rid of months before, and that she didn’t know he had in his possession that night, though she told investigators that he’d bought it a couple of months before and that he always kept it on him. That night, he “kinda freaked out a little bit” when he saw the deputies, Ashley told investigators. His eyes were “really wide” and he was “tensed up,” sitting rigidly with his head pushed back into the seat and his hands in his lap, fingers spread out. She told him to calm down. He did not respond to his wife anymore than he did to deputies. The only thing he told her was that he needed to call his probation officer.
“Steven, hop out of the car Bubba,” Capela told him.
“Who are you?” Barneski replied through his half-open car window, though it’s apparent from the investigation that he knew the cops were there on official business: he’d just told his wife that he’d been speaking to his parole officer earlier that day, and had even asked if he had a warrant out for his arrest–he had suspicions–but, he said, was told “you’re ok.”
“I’m detective Capela with the Sheriff’s Office, you have a warrant and you need to step pout of the vehicle,” Capela told him. Barneski ignores the command and rolls up his window.
“Hey man, if you’re not going to get out of the vehicle on your own we’ll take you out of the vehicle,” Gaddie tells him.
This went on for several minutes. Ashley described the deputies as “trying to be nice and give him a chance,” according to the FDLE investigation. He wouldn’t budge. One of the officers tried to open his door. It was locked.
Just then Prevatt yells out: “He’s reaching for something.” Either from below the seat or from his pants pocket (Ashley Barneski told investigators he always kept the gun in his pocket), Barneski pulled out the chrome-looking weapon.
“Gun, gun, gun,” Capela yells, “no, no, no!” and fires twice. Lichty fired two or three times simultaneously, so did Gaddie, who thought Barneski was going to shoot Capela. It all happened in split seconds. Ashley felt shards of glass strike her but was otherwise not hurt.
Later, Barneski would tell investigators that he thought he would get in trouble if he did not tell the deputies that he had a gun, which he’d bought for $300, supposedly for his father. He told investigators that he pulled the gun with one finger to show it to deputies. “Barneski said his hand may have been around the grip,” the investigation states, “however, the trigger didn’t work.” He told investigators deputies “should not have shot him because he gave them no reason to do so, and he has always treated police officers with the utmost respect.” His previous run-ins, including arrests for resisting officers, suggest otherwise. (Deputies also found a sword on the center console of the car.)
The three deputies involved in the shooting were cleared and returned to duty by the end of July. on Aug. 4, the State Attorney’s Office filed charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, each a second degree felony, and a charge of carrying a concealed firearm. On Oct. 27, Barneski tendered a plea of no contest. His lowest permissible prison sentence, according to his scoresheet, was 53 months, or almost four and a half years. On Nov. 6, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins sentenced him to 84 months, or seven years in prison.