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Shooting was left to deputy's best judgment

Colleagues say the Pinellas sheriff's deputy who shot a man Monday is known for his calmness.

By JANE MEINHARDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000


It boils down to a question of judgment.

Pinellas County sheriff's Deputy Christopher Taylor had an instant to decide whether to pull a gun Monday and shoot at someone in a crowded parking lot.

Nothing in the Sheriff's Office's rules for employee conduct -- called the general orders -- specifically states whether Taylor was allowed to shoot in that situation, officials said.

"The order says you use lethal force when you feel you or someone else is in danger," said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

Taylor, 28, caught a woman suspected of shoplifting in the Home Depot parking lot at 10550 Park Blvd. in Seminole just before noon Monday. A man she had been with drove a car toward them and grabbed her, dragging Taylor and a bystander, officials said. The deputy fired three times, wounding the driver, Ralph D. Pussehl, 35, in the temple and arm.

Pussehl, who was treated at Bayfront Medical Center and released, was charged with aggravated assault with a motor vehicle, aggravated battery with a motor vehicle and battery on a law enforcement officer.

Pussehl, of 3699 50th Ave. N in St. Petersburg, was being held at the Pinellas jail Tuesday in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Also arrested was Charlee Julia Jefford, 28, of the same address, who was identified as Pussehl's accomplice. Charged with petty theft and resisting arrest with violence, she was being held at the jail in lieu of $5,500 bail. Officials said she had stolen a $49 ceramic water pump.

Sheriff's officials said Taylor feared he, Jefford and the bystander helping him restrain her would be pulled under the car and run over. The deputy was put on administrative leave until investigations into the shooting are completed.

"Investigations are under way, but I will say that from what we know at this point, it was not a simple shoplifting," Sheriff Everett Rice said Tuesday. "It appears Pussehl was either violently aiding an escape or kidnapping a witness. That was a pretty desperate thing he was doing."

In concluding whether a shooting is justifiable, investigators determine if a deputy had a reasonable fear of danger to himself or others.

In 1996, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe cleared a deputy who shot a man after a car chase, ruling the driver had endangered deputies and others. A Largo officer was justified in fatally shooting a motorist in 1995 because the officer felt he was in "imminent danger of death or great bodily harm," McCabe ruled.

People who know Taylor describe him as capable of making good decisions under stress.

Taylor worked as a SWAT paramedic for two years before becoming a deputy. He still works as a part-time paramedic for Sunstar.

"He's very cool under extreme conditions," said Richard Schomp, SWAT paramedics supervisor. "He can do his job well under stress. He has a very good mindset. He's a perfectionist and hard on himself. ."

Taylor also was a medical communication officer for a year in Pinellas. Crist Fellman, who heads communications for the county's medical director, supervised him.

"He's very conscientious and level-headed," Fellman said. "

Taylor was off-duty Monday and stopped at Home Depot shortly before noon. As he started into the store, a man and a woman later identified as Pussehl and Jefford ran out and set off the store alarm. Taylor chased and caught Jefford, but Pussehl made it to an old, battered BMW in the parking lot.

Pussehl then drove to where Taylor and Jefford were, reached through the car window and grabbed her, witnesses said. He began driving away as Taylor and a man who went to help him held onto the woman.

Deputies are required to be armed while off-duty, sheriff's officials said, and Taylor had a Glock 9mm handgun in a fanny pack.

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