Less than a month ago Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Jonathon Duenas was on the witness stand in a criminal case, recounting the day last November when he was tracking a suspect in thick Z-Section brush with his K-9, and the suspect suddenly sprang up in front of him shirtless, wielding a knife, screaming his head off and punching at palmetto with his arms.
Duenas (and other deputies) could have shot him, and if the suspect had taken a step toward him Duenas said he would have fired, even if there were other deputies and houses a distance behind the suspect. But he didn’t. The jury had seen Duenas’s and one other deputy’s body cam footage. It was one of those instances–one of at least a half dozen in recent years for Flagler deputies–where deputies could have fired and been considered to have had a legitimate reason to do so, but didn’t.
The control they showed competed with a torrential adrenaline rush–and fear.
“I would venture to say that was the scariest I’ve been in my law enforcement career,” Duenas told the prosecutor during cross-examination about the encounter, “stating that that was the most aggressive encounter that I’ve had with a subject during my law enforcement career.” He explained how a distant patrol car behind the suspect and two other deputies gave him pause to use deadly force. But, he added, “if the defendant had attempt to close that gap in between where I remained and where he was, then I would have likely been forced to use deadly force.”
Duenas’s restraint was the more remarkable for the fact that he had not yet been deployed with his new K-9, who had just completed 400 hours of training. Duenas was heading for yet another class when his supervisor diverted him, telling him he could deploy with the dog, Valor, to get on-the-ground training. Duenas controlled the situation during the encounter even as his dog jumped up and down, barking and pulling at the end of the leash.
Deputy Duenas Confronts Matthew Nebit, Nov. 2017
The suspect, Matthew Nesbit, was found guilty on seven counts, including three counts of aggravated assaults on police officers.
Duenas, a six-year-veteran of the sheriff’s office, had another close encounter with an armed suspect Wednesday evening, this one even closer and involving a gun. And again, Duenas controlled the situation with such immediate grit and lack of hesitancy that he had unknowingly disarmed the suspect within instants of another police officer shouting “GUN!” It is the sort of unflinching boldness that seldom draws the sort of attention more commonly ascribed situations that go awry, when guns are fired and blood is spilled.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, a deputy had carried out a traffic stop on a black Ford sedan on North Church Street and East Howe in Bunnell. Alphonso Brooks, 39, of 908 Husson Avenue in Palatka, was at the wheel. The deputy called in Duenas and Valor, his K-9, to sniff around the vehicle for drugs. The dog picked up a scent of drugs.
Brooks remained at the wheel of the car. Duenas then spoke to him, addressing him informally by his first name, without a hint of aggression or even confrontation. “Just so you know I want to explain some things,” Duenas told Brooks, explaining to him how the dog alerted to narcotics. Brooks was incredulous, saying the car was his work vehicle and could not possibly contain drugs. He showed him his lunch pail and said he didn;t even smoke weed.
“Listen, I understand that, but I’m trying to ask you if there’s any other reason why you think my dog would have alerted to the inside of this vehicle,” Duenas tells him.
“I don’t know, I mean it ain’t no drugs in here, man,” Brooks says, looking at Duenas and shaking his head.
“OK, well, just so you know, it gives us probable cause to search the interior, so we’re going to do that,” Duenas tells him, still in an even, non-confrontational tone, explaining to him step by step what to do so there’s no surprises: “So I’m going to ask that you step out and I’m going to make sure that you don;t have any weapons on you, I’m going to pat you down, OK?”
At that point Brooks, oddly, puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. He does not acknowledge what Duenas has just told him. Duenas steps back a couple of feet. Brooks looks around.
“You’re good, you can go ahead and step out,” Duenas tells him. The car door opens. Duenas goes another step to put the man at ease: “And you’re good, you can keep your smoke.”
Brooks edges his legs out but remains seated, looking behind the car at the array of cop cars. He says something about the number of cars. takes the cigarette out.
Deputy Duenas Confronts Alphonso Brooks, Aug. 15, 2018
“OK I’m just I’m scared, man,” Brooks says.
“Sir, go ahead and step out of the car,” Duenas tells him.
“Step out of the car.”
Brooks slowly rises, perpendicular to the car, but as he does, he bends to his right and appears to grab something.
“Hey, gun, GUN GUN!” voices yell out–the voices of a Bunnell police officer and perhaps other deputies standing by, who somehow managed to detect Brooks’s movement despite the darkness.
Duenas immediately rushes Brooks and pins him against the car, his body cam footage shows, yelling out “Where is it?” as others yell, “put the gun down.”
Brooks is heard saying it’s on the ground.
“Listen to me, I will fucking kill you,” Duenas tells Brooks (though the word is bleeped out in the video the Sheriff’s Office released). “Are you insane?” Then to others, “Somebody come over here right now.” The situation is under control. Brooks is handcuffed. In Duenas’s video, he is heard walking away from the scene down the block, inhaling and exhaling a few times as if to recompose himself, then walking back to the scene to ask about the gun. He appears to be looking at the suspect through a patrol car’s window, which reflects the deputy’s face. It’s several minutes before anyone asks him if he’s all right. “Yeah, I’m fine,” Duenas says. “Camera going off.” The footage ends.
Brooks was arrested for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon and carrying a concealed firearm and booked at the Flagler County jail on $50,000 bond.
“This encounter could have quickly become a deputy involved shooting caused by the suspect’s actions,” said Sheriff Staly. “Deputies Duenas and Smith along with Bunnell Officer Hirshi showed great restraint and are safe because of their training and teamwork. This could have had a very different outcome with the death of Brooks or a deputy or officer.”
“I’m just so proud of our people because they’re well trained, they know that the use of deadly force is the last resort,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “But quite often these cases occur are the result of the suspect’s actions, which could have been the case last night.”
A sheriff’s release noted that Brooks may have been seeking a “suicide by cop.” The release stated Brooks had a prior record, including an aggravated battery conviction and an attempted child molestation conviction in 1997, in a case involving a child younger than 16. He’s served three prison stints, the last ending in 2010.
The weapon was a North American Arms .32 caliber gun, recovered with four hollow-point rounds and one full-metal jacket round in one of two magazines found in a drawstring bag. The gun itself appeared not to have been loaded. The arrest report (see below) makes no mention of drugs in the car, however.
Alphonso Brooks arrest report.
I really commend anyone who even thinks about becoming a cop these days. Politically and otherwise, the deck is stacked against them.
Random question says
So the dog gave a signal that drugs were in the car but he wasnt charged with a drug crime so im guessing no drugs were found. Wierd
Our law enforcement officers risk their lives day in and day out to preserve ours. Thank you so much Officer Duenas for being a down right humane sheriff deputy! Be safe out there please.
Please continue to get the criminals off the street. LEO all the way
Good thing he didn’t shoot there would be rioting in the streets and looting.
Random question? says
Not weird at all…. No need to stack the deck in a situation like this – you go after the highest penalty infractions.
I’m glad the cop didnt kill him but was there any drugs found? Wasnt that what they said ? The dog hit on drugs? So was this man’s constitutional rights violated? What actually happened here ? its confusing. That cops temperament seems like what we need more of, a true brave cop.
I have to agree with one earlier comment, what happen to whether there were any drugs found in the car? After all, that’s what provoked this entire encounter. If they didn’t find any, which is OBVIOUS to me since he wasn’t being charged with any drug violation, maybe Valor needs some more training before deploying him again, ya think!
Born and Raised Here says
@ random question says – narcotics become irrelevant once the suspect pulls out a firearm. That’s when it became a felony.
I think a lot of these K9s hit on drugs in a car ( not ) just makes it easier to legally search a car… Glad no LEO were injured …
Concerned resident says
Dumb move by the suspect. But what about the drugs? Valor smelled drugs but none were found? The police don’t just drop charges just because he committed another crime.
Glad the deputy is ok. Scary situation that he handled gracefully.
He panicked because he was a felon with a gun and didn’t want ot go back in prison. Did he pull an unloaded gun surrounded by armed Police? Suicide by Cop? The article doesn’t say if he had the gun in his hand or just reached for it. Anyway, good job Officers. Many other Jurisdictions would have shot him anyway. We all applaud your restraint. Keep it up.
PC Concerned Citizen says
I did some research based on the comments regarding no drugs having been located within the vehicle. Here is what I found:
Police canines alert to the “odor” of narcotics. Just because narcotics are not located within the vehicle does not mean that the canine or handler is wrong. Drugs can be concealed in areas that law enforcement may not locate at the time of the search. In addition, if an occupant of the vehicle handled narcotics prior to the contact, a properly trained canine’s olfactory (smell) system is powerful enough to alert to those minimal odors.
Maybe we should inform ourselves prior to jumping to conclusions and give our law enforcement officers the benefit of the doubt that they are out there doing what they are supposed to do by proactively seeking crime within our community; such as stopping a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
This “guilty until proven innocent” mentality against law enforcement HAS to change…
Are you Serious says
This guy pulled a gun on a LEO, he is a convicted felon and you all are worried about K9 Valors training. GTFOH with that. Let me guess, next your going to say it was profiling of some sort, right?! Nevermind he ran a stop sign. Thank you Sheriff for having competent Leo’s looking out for us. You got my vote!
Dogs alert to the odor. If no drugs wete found, which isn’t stated here, the suspect could have had drugs in the car recently and the scent remained. They are trained to find the odor, the search determines if the drugs are still there.
Trailer Bob says
The pert most likely didn’t have a permit for the gun or it was stolen. Most likely he had no time to think about it and just figured he had to get the gun out of the car. The gun wasn’t even loaded at the time of arrest, so that makes sense to me. Great work and restraint my the sheriff.
I know it’s easy to second guess a situation, but when the suspect flees in the first video why wouldn’t you unleash the dog to pursue him rather than chase him around the neighborhood?
There could have been drugs in the car prior to this event, so the smell could remain even if they are no longer in the car. The moral of the story is, if you’re going to carry an illegal firearm in your car, maybe don’t carry drugs in the car??? Regardless, a criminal and a gun is off the street.
Cop needs more training if he said” i will fing kill you.”…this guy is gonna skate.
Not irrelevant. He would have been charged with driving on a suspended licence if it was. I dont think they would leave out an additional drug charge. But i guess it doesn’t matter now. Idiot pull a gun on police. If he wasn’t snail slow, the officer would have been shot. Thank goodness no body got hurt.
Just me says
Great job officers.
@Trailer Bob……In the state of Florida, you dont need a permit to own a firearm. Nor carry a firearm in a vehicle as long as it fits the criteria outlined in the Fl Statute.
A Concerned Observer says
Some of the commenters should read the article prior to making irresponsible comments. Yes, Florida does allow firearms be carried in a car without a CCW permit. However, the firearm cannot be within easy reach (under the drivers leg or in the back seat as in this particular case), but out of immediate reach in the clove box or trunk. Neither of these restrictions apply to convicted felons, as this suspect is; Get Over It.
Yes, the article did not indicate whether drugs were or were not found. The suspect in this case may very also be charged with drug violations if the vehicle was searched later and drugs are found. It doesn’t matter one bit for this story about this case. His actions at the traffic stop and the fact that a convicted fellow was in possession of a loaded gun preempts any lesser offenses at the moment. Get Over It.
The driver in this case was stopped for running a stop sign and failure to use a turn signal, legal to stop the vehicle. The driver was also known by the deputy as a prior criminal, so additional caution is warranted. Maybe casual readers are not aware that when a vehicle is stopped, the officer calls in the tag to dispatch. If dispatch sees prior offences associated to that tag, the owner was ever identified as a dangerous person or one with previous criminal involvement, the LEO is immediately informed and additional backup is dispatched. The odor of the drugs was detected by the K9 and the officer asked for and given permission to search the vehicle. I believe the hit by the drug trained K9 is PC enough to obtain a search warrant and detain the vehicle, driver and occupants until a warrant is issued.
In the vernacular of our Sheriff, this “Dirtbags” felonious criminal history identifies him as a dangerous perpetrator and our society is due protection from him. To my utter amazement, this particular “Dirtbag” was out on bond the next day, maybe even before all of the paperwork was completed by the involved FCSO deputies and Bunnell PD Officers. How are repeat felons right to walk and drive our streets more important than the safety of our Law Enforcement Officers and the public they protect? “Catch and Release” is a fishing practice and not something that should be applied to multiple dangerous felons. The Incredible restraint and extreme polite method of speaking to this suspect shown by the officer in this case is beyond anything I could imagine. Our law enforcement officers are hesitating and in placing themselves in danger daily due to the publicity on the news media of recent officer involved events. This inflammatory, and yes, “prejudicial” coverage by the press toward law enforcement officers can only be described as being designed to inflame readers only to sell more soap.
Protect our law enforcement officers. Protect our citizens. Put criminals where they can do no further harm. I understand there are vacancies at “The Green Roof Inn” and surely many more at state and federal prisons.
Criminals are our citizens too. Our mothers, our fathers, they are our sons and our daughters, and they need us to look after them more than anyone. It’s so easy to abuse the constitutional rights of these so called dirtbags. I don’t think anyone thinks the cop did a bad job. But yes we will ask questions to ensure all citizens rights are intact ,even the “dirtbags” . To many complacent cops stand by silent, as th he few bad cops bring on more scrutiny. You can not control the people. We will always have the upper hand. So please protect us, all of us and not try to control us.
Dave, you do know that police DO NOT SERVE & PROTECT anymore. Call it what you want. I will be judged by 12 rather then buried by 6.