Pinellas deputies cleared in taser-related death

Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – On the night of August 18th, a 911 call came into the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office about an assault.

Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 and found blood at the scene. Deputies spoke to Baudillo Mendez Vasquez.

According to a report by the Pinellas County State Attorney’s office, there was a language barrier from the very start. Mendez Vasquez is originally from Guatemala and entered the country illegally according to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Mendez Vasquez speaks only Spanish and on the night of the incident appeared highly intoxicated.

The night before the 911 call there had been a fight at the same mobile home park and deputies believed this call may be a related carryover from the previous night’s problems.

Mendez Vasquez told deputies he’d been assaulted by a man on a bike and he provided a general description.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Sergeant Noble Katzer arrived on the scene and found a man matching the general description and made contact with a man later identified as Baudilio Morales-Velasquez. Although their names are similar and both men are from Guatemala, they are not related, didn’t know each other and deputies eventually learned they were not involved in an argument or fight.

At the time, sheriff’s deputies didn’t have the full picture, neither man spoke English and none of the deputies on scene spoke Spanish.

Morales-Velasquez didn’t have any identification and only produced a photo of an I.D. On his phone when the Sergeant asked him to produce something with his name on it before the Sergeant could finish talking to Morales-Velasquez he ran.

Deputies pursued and found him pounding on the door of a nearby trailer. Thinking he was trying to break in the deputies ordered Morales-Velasquez to the ground. Again, the language barrier was a problem.

Deputies deployed a taser and Morales-Velasquez fell to the ground and hit his head on the concrete, but he still didn’t give up.

Sheriff Gualtieri says deputies applied the taser three more times before they were able to place Morales-Velasquez into custody.

Morales-Velasquez later died of his injuries, but a report from the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office and Sheriff Gualtieri maintain deputies did nothing wrong.

“He had no reason to run, other than that that we know of. This guy was working seven days a week, 10, 12 hours a day at Chopsticks. He lived at that mobile home with his 14-year-old son, was not involved in any criminal activity, wasn’t doing anything wrong sadly,” said Gualtieri.

Gualtieri admits the man who made the false report and the man who ran both entered the country illegally, but sheriff’s deputies would not have turned them over to federal authorities.

“We are not the immigration police. We have no authority to enforce immigration law, we don’t enforce immigration law, we’re not I.C.E,” said Gualtieri.

The sheriff says if Morales-Velasquez hadn’t run, he would not have been arrested and would not have been deported, but Gualtieri says his deputies did the right thing under the circumstances.

“I have no problem with what the Sergeant did. He acted completely consistently with those circumstances with what he knew at the time,” said Gualtieri.

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