By MICHAEL A. SCARCELLA and FRANK GLUCK
May 26, 2007
BRADENTON -- Police say they did the right thing when they opened fire
on the car of a possible drug dealer outside a restaurant at one of
Manatee's busiest intersections Thursday.
But the attempted arrest -- based solely on an informant's tip and not
hard evidence -- went bad.
One officer was struck by the suspect's car, the suspect himself was
shot and a stray bullet flew into a restaurant booth during the dinner
No one was hit by the stray bullet, but the shooting has set off an
internal police review and led to criticism from residents and the
suspect's relatives, who say police put innocent lives in danger over
the possible sale of a $40 bag of heroin.
By late Friday, police had not found any heroin. The Bradenton police
chief admitted there is confusion about the nickname of the suspect
provided by the informant. And the suspect's attorney says the police
may not have been focusing on the right guy.
The 5:45 p.m. shooting at the KFC at U.S. 301 and 6th Avenue East is not
the first time a Bradenton police drug arrest in a public setting has
led to gunfire.
In June 2004, Bradenton police tried to make an arrest over the sale of
a gram of heroin in the parking lot of a Walgreens on Manatee Avenue
West. Once confronted, the suspect ran a police car off the road, shot
out his car window and spurred a high-speed chase through residential
neighborhoods before shooting himself.
And Manatee County does not have to look back more than a few days to
see what a stray bullet can do. Police believe a gang member
accidentally shot and killed 9-year-old Stacy Williams III on Monday
while people fought nearby.
Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said officers sometimes have to make
drug arrests in high-traffic public areas because that is where dealers
are doing their business.
Radzilowski said it is often safer for police to confront suspects
immediately in a controlled situation rather than let them escape and
try to chase them down later.
But one resident, who ate Friday at the KFC where the errant shot struck
Thursday, said police should make the arrests away from pedestrians and
"They could have followed him to a little more private area instead of
shooting in the middle of 5 o'clock traffic," said Dave Driver, 38, of
Bradenton. "They could have hit a person walking by, or had a bullet
heading towards traffic."
The bullet that entered the KFC broke through a window and hit a dining
booth at the level where a patron's abdomen would have been.
The gunfire was justified, Radzilowski said, because the driver struck
officers with his car. The officer who was struck most violently was
dragged 15 feet and suffered only minor injuries that at first appeared
to be much worse.
"He (the suspect) wasn't driving away. He was actively running over
people," Radzilowski said Friday. "We don't shoot at vehicles because
they are fleeing. We only shoot to stop a life-threatening situation."
Bradenton resident Donatelli Brantley, the 26-year-old suspect, sped off
from the restaurant after being confronted by the plainclothes officers.
Brantley was struck in the legs by police gunfire; there was no evidence
Brantley had a gun or fired at officers.
Brantley surrendered peacefully to police Friday with the help of
defense attorney Mark Lipinski.
Charging documents did not say whether police had a warrant for
Brantley's arrest before approaching his car. Police confronted the
driver before any drug deal had occurred.
The informant told police a dealer known as "Slim" was at the KFC to
sell him $40 worth of heroin, and based on that, police took action. The
informant, police said, has worked with officers for more than six
months and generated a number of arrests.
Undercover officers swarmed the black Saturn that the informant said
"Slim" was driving. The driver was the only person in the car.
Authorities say Brantley's car was pinned between unmarked police
vehicles. But Brantley, police said, used his car as a battering ram to
Two officers fired three shots total after the undercover officer fell
to the ground, police said.
Brantley drove south in the northbound lanes of U.S. 301 before ditching
his car at the Bradenton Village Apartments less than a mile from the
KFC, according to police reports.
Authorities said they found 4.5 grams of crack cocaine in the car, but
Brantley was treated at a hospital for the gunshot wound and booked in
the Manatee County jail on charges of aggravated battery against an
officer. Brantley, who has two prior drug-related arrests, is expected
to appear before a judge this morning.
Family members said Brantley showed up at the KFC to eat a meal and
wound up getting shot.
"He didn't have a gun," said a man who identified himself only as a
relative of Brantley. "They opened fire on him for no reason. That's not
Radzilowski said he was told there were no other vehicles in the parking
lot when police tried to arrest Brantley.
"The public wasn't around," the chief said.
It is not clear how many people were in the KFC, which was open and
staffed when the bullet entered. Reports say police told the informant
to stay in the restaurant during the drug bust.
That intersection sees an average of 70,000 vehicles a day, and a CVS
pharmacy is across the street.
Radzilowski said the shot that hit the restaurant window was "off the
mark," probably because the officer who fired it was knocked off balance
when hit by the car.
One police expert said it is difficult to make a hindsight judgment on
whether a police shooting in the heat of the moment is justified.
Thomas Aveni, a former New Jersey police officer and a law enforcement
trainer for the past 25 years, said the public should realize such
situations are quick-moving, tense and uncertain. But he acknowledged
that opening fire in a populated area is always dangerous.
"These things are never black and white," Aveni said. "You try not to
endanger others. Problem is, in an urban environment, or even a suburban
environment, there really isn't a safe direction to shoot."
A criminal suspect using a vehicle to attack a police officer runs a
good chance of being shot at, national figures show.
About 10 percent of the time that an officer uses deadly force, it is
against a vehicle driver, according to the New Hampshire-based Police
Policy Studies Council, which advises police departments on training and
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that police may shoot at suspect
vehicles under certain circumstances.
Generally, an officer may do so out of self-defense or to protect
others, and to stop a fleeing suspect who has just committed a violent
Florida law follows the Supreme Court guidelines.
"We go over the statutes with officers when they can use deadly force,"
said Lt. Chuck Lesaltato, spokesman for the Sarasota County Sheriff's
The undercover Bradenton police officer was recovering Friday from a
wound to his head. He suffered a gash above his right eye.
The two officers who opened fire were placed on administrative leave, a
routine practice with officer-involved shootings.