TAMPA, Fla. - The 24-year-old rookie officer who confronted a suspected gunman in the midst of a county-wide shooting spree is a “guardian of the city at its finest,” according to Tampa Police Department Chief Brian Dugan.
The chief is not releasing the name of the officer, who has been with TPD for just under a year but described him as energetic and courageous during a press conference Thursday.
The events that ended with the officer taking gunfire on a roadway in Tampa unfolded last week. The alleged shooter, 31-year-old Antonio Cruz Ortiz, is accused of shooting at more than a dozen people across Hillsborough County, apparently at random.
Dispatchers in the city and county started receiving calls around 7 p.m. Thursday.
1. I-275 near Westshore Boulevard: Two people shot in their vehicle while driving. Two victims sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
2. Fountain Mist Drive and Tadpole Lane: Five people shot at by a passing vehicle.
3. Lambright Street and Dale Mabr (FOX 13 News)
As the calls came in, deputies and officers across the county were on the lookout for the suspect’s vehicle. Dugan said one of his officers spotted it on Hillsborough Avenue near 43rd Street N and conducted a traffic stop on 43rd.
Dugan said when the suspect’s vehicle stopped, Ortiz jumped out armed with two weapons and started firing.
The officer put his cruiser in reverse and tried to get out of the line of fire, but bullets pierced his windshield and shattered the vehicle’s rear window.
"[The officer] could actually hear the bullets whizzing past his head," Dugan said, adding that the officer knew when he pulled the vehicle over, he would likely encounter an armed suspect in the middle of an active shooting rampage.
“That's what our cops do,” Dugan said. “That is 'guardian of the city' at its finest."
After Ortiz shot at the officer, Dugan said the suspect took off toward some nearby apartments. Meanwhile, video from another officer’s body camera shows the injured officer being checked by another officer.
His left arm was bloody, and it was clear he had been hit by a bullet or glass.
When they determined the officer did not appear to be in grave danger, all three started running toward the apartments where Ortiz was believed to be hiding.
Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies also arrived on the scene and took Ortiz into custody.
Dugan said it was still unclear if the officer was grazed by a bullet or cut by shattered glass. Regardless, the chief said, the suspect was trying to kill the officer.
“You can just imagine, when you have bullets from and assault rifle whizzing past your head, you're backing up and ducking for cover, bullet holes through the front windshield and the entire back windshield was shot out, but you know, he was fine when I met with him at the hospital. I have talked to him since then and he's doing good,” Dugan said.
At the suspect’s residence, investigators said they found $6,600 in cash, 170 grams of heroin, nearly 300 grams of what they believe is fentanyl, and 35 grams of marijuana. They also found an arsenal of weapons and ammunition.
The chief said investigators are still trying to determine the reason for Ortiz’s actions, but it may have started as a domestic incident.
“It would appear he was going through some type of mental health crisis, maybe for the last few weeks, and then … something happened to just really push him over the edge,” Dugan Said.
Dugan said Ortiz was not someone who was on the department’s radar before the shootings.
During the press conference, Dugan was asked about recent events involving a mural painted in front of the TPD headquarters that was later defaced. The chief said he’s less worried about murals and issues of free speech than he is about mental health and acts of violence.
“Our country [is] in the midst of a mental health crisis and gun violence are the two biggest threats facing our country and our community right now. When you couple mental health issues and gun violence it’s a deadly mixture,“ Dugan said.
Ortiz faces several charges of aggravated assault with a firearm, attempted second-degree murder, and shooting at an occupied vehicle.