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War veteran shot by police settles suit

Quentin Gordon, who was accidentally wounded by Tampa police, settles for $30,000.

By JEFF TESTERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001


TAMPA -- A Persian Gulf War veteran who was accidentally shot in the back by Tampa police while he watched TV with his 2 1/2-year-old son has agreed to settle a negligence lawsuit against the city for $30,000.

"This is a very, very fair settlement for the city of Tampa," said James A. Wardell, the attorney for shooting victim Quentin Gordon. "I think my client hopes the Tampa police have learned a lesson about shooting in residential neighborhoods."

Gordon, a career U.S. Army sergeant, was in the living room of his Gandy Gardens home on June 9, 1998, when a hail of bullets was fired by police at Michael Lentz, a teenager who armed himself after suffering a mental breakdown and fleeing to Gordon's south Tampa neighborhood.

Eight officers fired a total of 53 rounds at Lentz as he brandished a gun behind Gordon's home at 4701 W Wyoming Avenue, reports show. The 17-year-old, reported to be suicidal after being released from Charter Manatee Palms Hospital, was struck seven times.

As the gunfire started, Gordon, now 41, covered his son, Cameron, with his own body to keep the toddler from being hit. A total of 13 rounds fired by police hit Gordon's home, including one which lodged in his back.

Gordon was treated at Tampa General Hospital and released a day later. Wardell said Gordon escaped a crippling injury by a half-inch, the distance the bullet that ripped into him missed his spinal cord.

The Gulf War veteran said he never came under fire during his 20 years in the Army.

Gordon sued the city in June 1999, contending police fired their guns negligently. The city responded by saying officers were in an emergency situation and took reasonable actions to protect themselves and other citizens.

The police pursuit of Lentz began with a 911 call from his mother, who said her son had grabbed two guns from a family safe and was holding his father hostage.

Police initially reported that they had fired at Lentz after the youth pointed his weapon at officers, told them to throw down their guns and then fired, records show.

But the lawsuit says Lentz, while armed, never actually fired at police. A police investigation confirmed that Lentz never fired, though two different officers claimed they had seen the muzzle flash from his gun.

An internal affairs investigation found no violation of law or police policy.

In his lawsuit, Gordon listed $13,309 in damages, including medical bills of $1,696, lost wages of $1,800 and $9,812 for toys, furniture and a big-screen TV hit by gunfire.

The city offered a court settlement of $1,750 before the case went to mediation and the $30,000 settlement was agreed upon.

The city admits no liability in the case. City Council members are scheduled to ratify the settlement today.

"The settlement was driven by my client's desire to put this behind him," Wardell said. "If the injury had been more serious and this had gone to a jury, I'm sure there would have been much greater exposure for the city."

- Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813) 226-3407 or testerman@sptimes.com.

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