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Fatal confrontation begins with laser light

Pinellas deputies went to see who was shining a laser beam at them, and ended up shooting a suspect to death.

Published February 5, 2005

Thomas Setzer

PINELLAS PARK - As Pinellas County sheriff's deputies gathered in a Winn-Dixie parking lot early Friday to work on a case, they saw a red dot dancing across their cruisers.

Concerned they were being targeted by a laser-sighted weapon, a deputy trained a spotlight on a second-floor window at the adjacent Boardwalk Apartments, and the laser stopped. Then the beam appeared again, this time focusing on the deputies' bodies and tracking them as they walked.

Deputies drove to the apartments to investigate. Within minutes, the man they say pointed the laser was dead.

Authorities said the deputies wound up in a confrontation with Thomas D. Setzer in the door of his apartment. They said one deputy fired a shotgun blast after Setzer, who authorities thought might be armed, refused to show his hands and made a sudden movement.

"We still don't know why he (Setzer) pointed the laser at the deputies," said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. "But the deputies went there not knowing if someone was aiming a gun at them or not."

Setzer, 24, was pronounced dead at St. Petersburg General Hospital.

The incident unfolded in an apartment complex at 6411 102nd Ave. N where most people keep to themselves.

Kelly Ferlanie, who lives across the hall from Setzer, awoke a little after 2 a.m. to the sound of the telephone. A man who said he was a police officer asked her and anyone else who lived in her unit to remain inside.

A short time later, Amy Davenport awoke to the sound of automobiles. She looked outside her apartment in time to see two squad cars pull up to the building across the parking lot. Davenport woke her husband, and they watched as a deputy armed with what they thought was a shotgun took up a position just inside the front door of the building.

Pasha said deputies knocked on the door of Apartment C, identified themselves, and heard a man and a woman arguing. No one answered. They then heard the man say he was "going to get a gun."

The deputies went down the stairs and began to remove other residents from the building. They returned upstairs a second time and knocked on the door again. This time, Pasha said, Deputy Ryan E. Buckley said he heard a man say, "I'm going to blow somebody's head off."

"I heard him say he knew what cops are all about, how they are, and then some cussing," said Ferlanie, 25, who added that Setzer and his girlfriend had lived across the hall for about two months. "He said he wasn't coming down because he knew what they would do."

Moments later, Pasha said, the door to Apartment C opened and Cheri Benz, Setzer's girlfriend, and her 9-year-old daughter ran out. Benz, 29, and her daughter, who is not related to Setzer, where taken to a patrol car. Benz told deputies Setzer had guns in the apartment, and that the couple's 2-year-old daughter was still inside.

"Now they have information about guns and the laser, a child in the apartment, and they've heard Setzer say he going to get a gun and blow someone's head off," Pasha said.

Deputies tried again to make contact, calling to Setzer to come out. He did.

According to Pasha, Buckley, 32, ordered Setzer, who was standing by his front door, to show his hands. Buckley, a nine-year veteran of the force, could see Setzer's left hand, but his right hand was concealed in the doorway. After several more commands to show his hands, Setzer said, "You're not going to get her" and turned suddenly.

It was then that Buckley fired his shotgun, striking Setzer in the upper chest.

Deputies did not find a gun or a laser on or near Setzer's body. They said an inspection of the apartment found three handguns, including a loaded semiautomatic in a drawer about 8 feet from the door. Police also found three devices that shoot a laser beam, including one that can be mounted on a gun.

The Sheriff's Office Crimes Against Persons unit, the agency's Internal Affairs unit and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office are investigating the shooting. Buckley has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Pasha said Buckley has never been involved in a shooting until Friday, and has numerous commendations in his personnel file. He has had one complaint that led to a review by the department's internal affairs unit. In May 2003, Buckley was investigated for use of force during an arrest and was exonerated, Pasha said. His file was unavailable for review by the Times Friday because it was being used in the investigation, Pasha said.

Gary Setzer, 49, said his son, who grew up in Virginia, was a loving father who helped him with his New Port Richey construction business.

"I tried to see it from the deputies' point and his point," Setzer said. "They kept asking him to show his hands. He refused. They said he had a gun and was going to shoot somebody. They felt threatened.

"But the nearest gun was 8 feet away. He had no gun next to him or on him. I asked why did they have to kill him? Why not shoot him in the leg? They (deputies) told me they're not trained that way."

Thomas Setzer has a criminal record that includes arrests for aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon. In both cases, adjudication of guilt was withheld by a judge.

Gary Setzer said that although his son had a temper, "he never followed through with anything. He was a 130-pound kid whose mom died when he was 7. Now he's leaving a little girl with no dad.

"And it started as a simple laser deal.

"If he would've just stopped."

[Last modified February 5, 2005, 00:56:15]

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