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Crime & Courts

Tampa man tries to grab deputy's gun in court

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Published:   |   Updated: July 31, 2013 at 07:12 PM

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TAMPA - Something didn't seem quite right about the prisoner.

He was sitting in court in downtown Tampa with a dozen or so other inmates, all clad in identical, orange prison garb, but he stood out somehow. Maybe, Hillsborough County sheriff's Master Sgt. Tracy Wallace thought, it was because he kept staring at her.

"I had noticed this individual's behavior and that heightened my awareness," Wallace said Wednesday. "He was studying me and the equipment I was wearing."

Wallace's instincts were spot-on. Tampa police said inmate Robert Bridges attacked Wallace in the courthouse on Tuesday morning and tried to take her gun, a loaded 9 mm handgun she wears on her hip.

Wallace credits her training - and "a sixth sense about this individual'' - for the fact Bridges wasn't successful.

Wallace, an 18-year veteran of the county's detention department, was in the courthouse for two weeks of training. She had never Bridges before but said his demeanor in Circuit Judge Martha Cook's court was unsettling.

"Something just didn't seem right ... it felt dangerous,'' Wallace said.

She was walking past the row of inmates on her way to another courtroom when Bridges, whose feet were shackled and wrists handcuffed to a chain around his waist, made his move.

"I saw from the corner of my eye him lunging at me," Wallace said in a news conference outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon. She felt Bridges' hand fall on her holstered gun.

"I swept my hand and turned away," she said. "I created distance between him and me."

Two bailiffs fell onto Bridges, and just like that it was over. But the potential for tragedy loomed in Wallace's mind.

"I have to think the worst," she said. "I have no idea what his intent was. It happened so quick."

She continued her duties and finished the shift and went home. The 5-foot-2, 130-pound deputy hasn't told her out-of-town mother about the incident yet, but her husband, a retired law enforcment officer, knows.

He's not flustered, she said. He knows she did what she was supposed to do.

"We're trained to do this," she said, "and the training just kicked in."

She said it helps to have a holster that has has safeguards to make it difficult to just yank the gun out.

Bridges, 24, 3106 E. Emma St., Tampa, was in court waiting for his case to be called on felony charges of burglary, obstruction and grand theft. The 5-foot-8, 142 pound inmate faces additional charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and deprivng an officer of means of protection.

Sheriff's officials said there was nothing to indicate Bridges would cause such a problem.

"He was fairly restricted," said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. No more restraints could be added, he said, "other than putting him in a box and wheeling him into the courtroom, Hannibal Lecter style."

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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