By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony shot and killed a man when he was a teenager living in a poor urban neighborhood in Philadelphia, according to records and interviews with family members of the dead man.
Tony, 41, kept the May 3, 1993 killing secret for years. But after being asked about it by Florida Bulldog, had this to say on Saturday:
“When I was 14 years old, growing up in a neighborhood in Philadelphia filled with violence and gang activity, I shot an armed man in self-defense. The juvenile authorities reviewed my actions and cleared my name,” Tony wrote in an email. “This was the most difficult and painful experience of my life and I have never spoken of it publicly. I worked every day from that time forward to leave the violence that surrounded me in Philadelphia behind.”
Tony’s account, however, is disputed by the dead man’s girlfriend, who said he was apparently unarmed and that the shooting was prompted by an argument.
Tony did not disclose his Philadelphia arrest on murder and firearms charges on forms he filled out to become a law-enforcement officer in Coral Springs more than a decade ago. He also apparently kept the matter under wraps early last year when Gov. Ron DeSantis chose him to replace Sheriff Scott Israel.
DeSantis suspended Israel for “neglect of duty and incompetence” for mishandling the police responses to the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the January 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Today, Tony and Israel, both Democrats, are the two leading candidates for sheriff in the 2020 election. According to the Supervisor of Elections, Tony has to date raised about $157,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions. Israel has raised nearly $135,000.
Tony was initially charged as an adult by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, but the homicide case was soon transferred to Juvenile Court, where it went to trial in December 1993. Tony was found not guilty. The court file was ordered sealed by the judge, and no court records about it are public. Florida Bulldog obtained a police report outlining the case’s key details.
Tony went on to graduate in 1997 from Philadelphia’s Olney High School, where he played football and baseball. But he soon left Philadelphia behind, moving to Tallahassee where he attended Tallahassee Community College and Florida State University. He graduated with a degree in criminology in 2002.
Decades later, Gregory Scott Tony is still remembered back home in Philadelphia.
‘I will never forget his face’
“I will never forget his face, never, ever,” said Maritza Carrasquillo, who was 17 years old when Tony pulled the trigger on her 18-year-old boyfriend, Hector “Chino” Rodriguez.
Carrasquillo remembers vividly that awful Monday afternoon 27 years ago. It was about 3:45 p.m. and she was on the phone with Chino, who was caring for their 5-month-old daughter while she worked part-time at a McDonalds. “I was calling to check on her. It was cherry season and he was gonna buy me five dollars of cherries. We hung up and I would say not even 10 minutes later his sister came running. I was already walking to his mother’s house and his sister screams, ‘They just shot my brother! They just shot my brother!’ ”
Chino’s mother is Norma Rodriguez, now 64. She lived a block away from the shooting scene outside Gregory Tony’s row house at 2828 N. Hutchinson St.
“I heard those shots. Someone said it was a gun. They killed your son! And I started running outside and found my son on the sidewalk in blood,” she said, before sobbing and unable to continue.
The police report says Chino suffered “multiple GSW’s [gunshot wounds] to head & body.”
Carrasquillo said witnesses told her at the time that Tony was about six to 10 feet away from Chino when he began shooting from his front stoop. The first shot hit Chino in the stomach.
‘Shot him four or five more times’
“Hector scooched over in the fetal position, but standing, and the guys that were there tried to help and tried to grab him, and Greg pointed the gun and said ‘don’t touch him or I’ll shoot.’ They dispersed and he shot him four or five more times in the head,” she said.
Carrasquillo, now 44, said she got to the nearby scene in time to see her boyfriend being loaded into the back seat of a car for the ride to Episcopal Hospital, where he died at 4:01 p.m., the police report said.
“Hector didn’t have a weapon on him that I’m aware of, and I never saw him with a weapon,” said Carrasquillo, her voice breaking. “He was an amazing person, loving, caring, protective. He loved his daughter so much. We had plans on getting married in June and we were moving to Puerto Rico and I was gonna continue my business studies. We had this whole life ahead of us and it was taken from us.”
The Philadelphia Daily News reported the slaying two days later under the headline: ‘Joke’ turned sour for 2 pals in North Phila.” The location was described as “a tiny trash-strewn street” at the intersection of Hutchinson and Auburn streets where “graffiti and desperation cover buildings and souls.”
Gregory Tony, Chino and several others were hanging out in front of Tony’s house shortly before 4 p.m. The story says, “Police were uncertain what sparked the killing, but the word on the street was that some light-hearted joking between the two friends had turned ugly.”
Joke goes bad
Norma Rodriguez told the paper that two crack addicts walked by and Chino joked, “There goes your uncles.”
“Don’t play like that with my family, man,” she said Gregory Tony replied. “He didn’t like that kind of talk.”
William Scott, identified in the Daily News story as Gregory Tony’s father, told the paper that “his son apparently came in the house and grabbed the [.32-caliber] revolver that Scott kept hidden under his mattress.”
“I saw the two of them together 20 minutes earlier,” Scott said. “They was laughing and talking… Next thing I know, I hear shots and see this kid lying in the street. I recognized who it was and I said, ‘God damn it! God damn it!… One hour later, I heard it was my son who did it.’”
Accompanied by his attorney, Gregory Tony turned himself in to the police the next day. A preliminary hearing was held a week later “after testimony by witnesses.” Bail was set at $15,000. Except for Tony’s acquittal, what happened in court after that remains a secret.
Sheriff Tony disputed assertions by Carrasquillo, Norma Rodriguez and newspaper accounts that he and the dead man had been friends.
“The press accounts at the time said we were friends, we were not. There are quotes from locals speculating on what may have happened. They were not there. They did not witness the terrified 14 year old boy who thought his and his family’s life was in mortal danger try to protect that family,” Tony wrote in his email to Florida Bulldog.
“Surviving this assault inspired me to do work to help others. The world is filled with violent individuals and brave men and women who protect the innocent against their actions. This is the essence of law enforcement and is why I have dedicated my life to service in law enforcement.”
In recent years, before Tony became sheriff and when he was running his active shooter training company Blue Spear Solutions in Broward County, both Carrasquillo and her now-grown daughter, Melanie Rodriguez, attempted to communicate with him on Facebook.
“I found him on Facebook and reached out via Messenger. I sent him a whole paragraph on how I knew he was the one that killed my father and I wanted to know why… He read it and he blocked me,” said Rodriguez, who is now married with a family of her own.
Carrasquillo, also married with seven children, wrote to Tony after being encouraged by her supportive husband. She hoped he might write back and say he was sorry.
“It wouldn’t bring Hector back, but it would show he’s remorseful,” said Carrasquillo. “I remember letting everything out, asking him to forgive me for wishing so many bad things on him. ‘For many years I wished you and your family the pain you caused me’ and he blocked me, he never answered me back.”
Gregory Tony’s new life as the sheriff of Broward County was well- known among his friends back in Philadelphia. Carrasquillo said she bumped into his new reputation when she reached out to some of them in search of answers.
“A lot of them out there would say that’s old, you need to leave it where it is. People were saying Gregory is a different person now. He’s a sheriff.
“However, he killed someone. He changed his life. But if he killed over a joke then, now he has a license to carry. A license to kill. Who’s to say someone’s not gonna push his button again and he’ll retaliate?”