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Deputy killed pursuing suspects

Working as a security guard, the reserve sheriff's deputy died after he was dragged by a car driven by two shoplifting suspects.

Published September 19, 2003

TAMPA - A 38-year-old Hillsborough reserve sheriff's deputy who was working as a security guard was killed Thursday when he was dragged by the car of two alleged shoplifters who sped away from the J.C. Penney store at University Mall.

One of the suspects was captured by a bystander who watched in horror as the security guard was flung from the speeding car into a tree. A second suspect was captured by other security officers near Fowler Avenue.

The incident began about 5:30 p.m., when John Tauer, a security officer employed by J.C. Penney, saw two men shoplifting inside the store, officials said.

The two men ran out of the store with some clothing, said Hillsborough sheriff's Lt. Rod Reder.

Tauer followed.

The two men climbed into a stolen 1995 Lexus, Reder said. Tauer was either pinned between the door and the car or was hanging on to the door when the suspects drove away, officials said.

David Shoats said he saw the whole thing.

"The car was right in front of the J.C. Penney door when they sped off," Shoats said. "There was a guy hanging outside the car."

Shoats said he climbed into his car and noticed that another security officer was running after the Lexus. Shoats picked up that officer and they followed the Lexus.

"They were going about 65 mph, and they jumped this curb and they hit a tree," said Shoats, who watched as Tauer was thrown into the pine tree.

"I don't know if they were trying to make the turn or get him off the car," Shoats said.

The car hit the tree, Shoats said, and the two people inside got out and started to run.

Shoats stopped his car, and he and the security guard chased the men.

They caught one near 17th Street. The security officer handcuffed him and took him back to the scene.

Shoats said he saw the second man run into a nearby Denny's restaurant. Shoats followed.

He asked a waitress about the suspect. She told him the man had probably gone into the bathroom.

"He was just like sweaty and nervous," Alana Smith, a Denny's employee, said of the suspect. Shoats was so calm that Smith thought he was a security officer.

Shoats, 38, a construction worker, said he looked in the men's restroom. And the women's. The man wasn't there.

Shoats scanned the restaurant and saw the man crouched in a booth.

"Had a knife and fork in his hand," Shoats said.

With one eye on the man, Shoats dialed 911 on his cell phone.

"I have the other suspect at Denny's," Shoats told a dispatcher. "I'm going to have him."

Shoats hung up and walked over to the man.

"What are you talking about?" the man said, when Shoats approached.

Shoats coaxed the man out of the booth. Just before they got to the door, Shoats took him by the left arm and led him outside and pushed him onto the roof of his car.

Deputies arrived.

Reder said the man told detectives that his name was Jontue A. Davis, a 20-year-old from 4218 Lasalle St., Tampa, who has been arrested at least six times in Hillsborough County on drug and larceny charges.

Davis and the other suspect - who is a juvenile - were being questioned late Thursday night, Reder said. They had not been arrested as of 11 p.m.

Tauer was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he died at 8 p.m.

Reder said Tauer was a reserve II deputy, which meant that he was not a sworn officer. He was not working as a deputy at the time of the incident.

Tauer had a wife and other family members in the area.

"He was obviously a dedicated employee who was doing everything he could to do his job," Reder said. "Shoplifters can turn into armed robbers and aggravated batterers when the reach the desperation point.

"This was one of those times."

- Tamara Lush can be reached at 226-3373 or at

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