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Police offer of help touches off struggle

The driver attacks the officer and then two other officers despite being shot, police say.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002


TAMPA -- A Tampa police officer offering assistance to a stranded motorist Saturday morning ended up shooting the man after a violent struggle by the side of the road, police said.

Officer Charles Trigo, 42, was leaving an off-duty job as a security guard about 6 a.m. when he saw a burgundy Acura in the median on N 50th Street, just south of 26th Avenue.

The car had mud caked on its wheels and there were skid marks in the road, leading the officer to believe it had spun out of control, police spokeswoman Katie Hughes said.

Trigo, in uniform and driving a marked patrol car, stopped and got out to offer assistance. As the man approached, Trigo asked whether he could help, Hughes said.

"The suspect for no reason just attacks the officer," Hughes said. "A violent struggle ensues."

The man, 31-year-old James Alan Clark, of 7814 Pine Hill Drive in Tampa, broke free from Trigo and ran to the Acura, which belongs to his fiancee, Hughes said. He appeared to grab something, Hughes said, and Trigo pointed his gun and screamed for Clark to get out of the car.

As Clark got out of the Acura, he yelled to Trigo that he was going to kill him, Hughes said. He raised both arms and aimed an unknown, dark-colored object at Trigo, Hughes said.

Believing it was a weapon, Trigo, a 17-year veteran, fired several times, striking Clark in the right elbow and left hip, Hughes said.

But Clark didn't fall. He ran to Trigo's cruiser, which had the keys in the ignition, and jumped into the passenger seat, Hughes said.

About this time, a second officer arrived. John Womack, 31, happened to be working an off-duty job down the street and had heard Trigo's radio call for help and the gunshots. Womack, a six-year veteran, joined Trigo in trying to pull Clark from the cruiser.

Clark fought with the two officers until a third officer arrived, and they pulled Clark from the car. The third officer, Robert D. Cole, 28, was placing handcuffs on Clark when he grabbed Cole's gun from its holster, Hughes said.

Cole, a Tampa officer for three years, was able to wrestle his gun back, she said. Clark was handcuffed and taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was listed in fair condition Saturday.

Trigo suffered bruises and a torn shirt. None of the officers required medical treatment.

"Considering these three officers were all struggling with the man (and didn't fire again) shows great professional restraint," Hughes said.

Hospital workers performed a preliminary drug screening and found cocaine in Clark's system, she said.

Why Clark attacked Trigo was not known Saturday. "We don't have a clear answer," Hughes said. "Clearly, his behavior was out of the norm, to say the least."

Hughes said police had not found the "dark-colored object" Trigo said Clark had pointed at him. "That's still under investigation," she said.

According to arrest records, Clark has been in and out of jail at least seven times since 1988 on charges including DUI, cocaine possession, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and robbery.

When he leaves the hospital, he is expected to be charged with assault on a law enforcement officer, depriving an officer of means of protection, three counts of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.

-- Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at 226-3403 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

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