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Tampa Police Chief Defends Opening Fire on Gunman, Hostage

MITCH STACY
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The city's police chief said his officers had no choice but to return fire Friday on a crack-addled gunman, even though he had a hostage in a headlock. The gunman and the woman were killed by the barrage of bullets.

Tampa Police Chief Stephen Hogue said officers typically don't shoot at suspects holding hostages but were forced to fire to defend themselves when Gary T. Brower emerged from the room and shot at them.

''It developed very quickly, and the suspect forced the issue by coming out of the room with the hostage and shooting at police,'' Hogue said in a news conference.

Asked if officers could have taken cover and allowed Brewer to go on his way with the hostage, Hogue said that might have been an option if he had not fired at them. When he did, Hogue said, ''he changed those dynamics completely.''

The 5:30 a.m. gunfight outside an east Tampa motel culminated a crack-cocaine fueled night that saw Brewer, 45, first detain another woman in a condo in another part of the city, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

Officers were called to the Luxury Motel after someone ran across the street to a gas station and reported a woman being held hostage, McElroy said. Officers arrived, peered inside the room and saw Brewer with the shotgun, a woman and a dog.

Officers heard two shots inside, which turned out to be Brewer shooting the dog. Minutes later he came out of the room with the woman.

''He has the woman in a headlock with the gun pointed at her head,'' McElroy said. ''He spots an officer to his right, levels the shotgun at the officer and fires at the officer.''

Four officers fired at Brewer, killing him and wounding the woman, McElroy said. She died hours later at the hospital. Her name has not been released. The mixed breed dog, which belonged to someone else staying in the room, survived but was in serious condition.

The SWAT team and a hostage negotiator were called but hadn't arrived when Brewer emerged from the motel room, Hogue said.

Police are still trying to determine how many times Brewer was shot. He had more than 10 bullet wounds, but some of them might be exit wounds, Hogue said. The woman was shot ''several times,'' he said.

Hogue called the woman's death tragic, ''tantamount to a police officer getting killed.''

The four officers, all veterans with at least 10 years experience, have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation. None was injured.

''Obviously, anytime you're involved in a shooting, it's an unsettling event,'' Hogue told The Associated Press in an interview. ''(The officers) seem to be OK, but I know they are traumatized to some degree.''

The incident began at about 9 p.m. Thursday, when Brewer held his girlfriend against her will at her south Tampa condo, McElroy said. The woman told police he used crack cocaine throughout the night.

She was able to break away and call police at about 4:40 a.m., McElroy said. By the time officers got to the condo, Brewer had fled. About an hour later, he was dead outside the motel room.

The $35-a-room motel is in a commercial section of east Tampa fronted by six-lane Hillsborough Avenue. The complex is a grouping of low-slung buildings containing two motel units each, set back off the busy road. A woman who said she was the owner said she didn't see the shooting and declined to answer questions Friday afternoon.

Brewer, who had a Palm Harbor address, had a lengthy criminal record, police said.

He was arrested twice in June after disputes with his girlfriend's husband, police reports said. On one occasion, he fought with the man, Abe Chin, after Chin followed him to the woman's residence. Chin and his wife were in the process of a divorce, reports said. Both men were charged with misdemeanor battery.

The other time, Brewer was charged with a felony after Chin told police that Brewer drove up to the house and pointed a large handgun at him, report said.

Brewer served 15 months of an 18-month prison sentence for burglary and was freed in January 2003, Florida Department of Corrections records said. He had also been on house arrest for two years after 1996 convictions of aggravated assault, aggravated battery and leaving the scene of a traffic crash with injury, records said.
 
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