Attorney: Security guard in Gardens Mall shooting acted appropriately

The security guard who fired four shots at The Gardens Mall on April 15 during a robbery attempt did not act recklessly and may have avoided a bloodbath by showing restraint, his attorney said.

Jose L. Sanchez, an armed security guard for Boca Raton-based Tactical Operations Group, was working a detail at Saks Fifth Avenue when two men tried to steal more than $4,000 worth of purses minutes after the store opened.

After another security guard was violently tossed to the ground by one of the alleged robbers, Sanchez stepped into action. He fired a warning shot into the air as one of the robbers ran to a waiting vehicle, and then blasted three more shots into the rear of the getaway car as it sped away.

The two alleged robbers — Keionatae Renard Bailey, 31, and Cory Tyrell Hutchins, 30 — were stopped by police nearby and arrested. Both men are convicted felons and remain in the Palm Beach County Jail.

As of last week, Palm Beach Gardens police said they were continuing to investigate the incident, which presumably includes probing whether Sanchez acted responsibly.

Cory Strolla, who represents Tactical Operations Group, said Sanchez feared for his and the other security guard’s safety and lives and acted in a completely appropriate manner.

“Everybody wants to play Monday morning quarterback,” Strolla said. “You know what? Get in a situation with a convicted felon who wants to harm you and see what you’re going to do. That was truly a life-or-death experience for him. He really thought those guys were trying to kill him.”

Bailey, of Riviera Beach, has more than 10 felony convictions and was recently released from a five-year prison stint. Hutchins, of West Palm Beach, has several convictions on his record and also served time in prison.

Strolla said Sanchez chased Bailey out of Saks Fifth Avenue after Bailey bloodied the other security guard, then fired a warning shot.

A bill signed into law in June by Gov. Rick Scott allows anyone who fires a warning shot to avoid criminal prosecution if he or she felt threatened.

After the warning shot, Hutchins used his vehicle like a “weapon” by racing it near where Sanchez and the second security guard were standing, Strolla said. The vehicle stopped a short distance from Sanchez, who noticed that Hutchins was fumbling around inside the car as Bailey jumped in.

“Mr. Sanchez doesn’t know if they’re reaching for a weapon,” Strolla said. “He literally could have shot (Bailey and Hutchins) in the head. But he didn’t do that.”

Instead, Strolla said, Sanchez stepped off to the side and unloaded three shots into the car as it streaked out of the parking lot.

Strolla said its misguided to think Sanchez fired his weapon at shoplifters.

“(Bailey) showed everybody at the scene what a violent felon he is and that he was willing to harm anybody who stood in his way of getting away with those purses,” Strolla said.

Strolla said Sanchez, 37, has worked as an armed guard for Tactical Operations Group for at least two years, but had never drawn his weapon until last week. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed that Sanchez is licensed to carry a firearm and work as a security officer.

Sanchez is a native of the Dominican Republic who supports several family members back home, Strolla said. Sanchez remained deeply shaken following last Wednesday’s ordeal and is unwilling to speak publicly about his experience because he fears retribution. Sanchez continues to work, although Tactical Operations Group has removed him from any security details that require a gun until police complete their investigation.

“I feel the Palm Beach Gardens police realize that there was no malice, that Mr. Sanchez wasn’t there to commit a crime,” Strolla said. “He was trying to save himself and the other security guard.”

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