Sarasota Police officer on paid administrative lead after shooting and wounding suspect in attempted armed robbery case

Crime reported on Nov. 15 in Publix parking lot at Town & Country Plaza on North Beneva Road

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is investigating a veteran Sarasota Police Officer’s Nov. 15 shooting of a 71-year-old armed robbery suspect who allegedly attacked an 83-year-old woman at the Publix grocery store in the Town & Country Plaza, located at 501 N. Beneva Road, the Police Department has reported.

The attack was reported at 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 15, the Probable Cause Affidavits say.

The victim “was shaken but is thankfully OK,” Police Chief Rex Troche pointed out during a Nov. 16 press conference about the incident.

She told officers that she had just finished shopping and had pushed her cart to her vehicle. After she had unloaded the cart, “a white male approached her from behind and attempted to snatch her purse from her shoulder as she was getting into her vehicle,” the affidavits say. “As she struggled to maintain possession of her purse,” the affidavits add, the suspect “threatened to cut or scratch her with an object he was holding. The victim saw a metal object in his hand,” the affidavits note; she thought it was a key.

The victim did have “minor scratches on her arms from the struggle,” the affidavits add.

The officer who shot the suspect — between vehicles in the parking lot of the Homewood Suites hotel located at 3071 Fruitville Road — was not injured, Troche added during the press conference. According to agency protocol, he has been placed on paid administrative leave, Troche said.

About a year ago, he pointed out, the Police Department changed its policy to call for bringing in another agency to investigate officer-involved shootings.

Capt. John Todd, commander of the department’s Criminal Investigations Division, added of the unidentified officer, “All things considered, I think he’s doing well.” Shooting another person is an emotional and traumatic event, Todd emphasized.

The suspect — Robert Paul Briandi, of 2507 Beneva Road, Apartment 5 — has been charged with one count of Aggravated Assault with a Weapon without Intent to Kill, one count of Robbery with a Weapon and one count of Aggravated Assault on an Officer, Firefighter or EMT, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division record on Briandi says.

Briandi’s apartment complex is located north of the intersection of Beneva Road and Webber Street; it is south of the Pinecraft community.

Briandi is being held without bond, the Corrections Division record notes; his arraignment has been set for Dec. 16.

The record describes him as 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing 160 pounds.

Briandi was “in stable condition” following surgery on Nov. 15 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Troche reported during the press conference.

Troche showed the news media the body camera video recorded during the shooting. This is the link to that video, which — Troche and Todd emphasized — could be disturbing to viewers: https://youtu.be/xfHFhg5q_SU

The department was releasing the video quickly, Troche explained, “to demonstrate our transparency and commitment to the community.” Because the incident occurred on a weekday, and, therefore, the department was fully staffed, it was possible to make video available more quickly than if the shooting had occurred on a weekend, Troche indicated.

A person whom both Troche and Todd referred to as “a Good Samaritan witness” was able to provide a detailed description of Briandi to the 911 dispatcher while following Briandi after the attempted robbery, Todd explained. That witness, who was nearby when the attempted robbery occurred, Todd added, tried to help the victim fend off the attack.

A Police Department news release said, “Several bystanders witnessed the attack and heard the victim yelling for help. One of the witnesses yelled at Briandi and as he approached Briandi, Briandi let go of the purse and walked away in a hurry.”

When Briandi fled south toward the McDonald’s just south of the shopping center, Todd continued during the press conference, that Good Samaritan witness followed him. The witness also used his phone to record video of the suspect running from the scene, Todd noted.

At one point, however, Todd continued, Briandi stopped and threatened the witness with the knife Briandi was holding.

A Police Department news release added, “The witness said later he feared Briandi would stab him, so he looked for something to defend himself. The witness did not want Briandi to get away so he followed him across Fruitville Road to the Homewood Suites until he saw Sarasota Police officers.”

The officer who ended up shooting Briandi spotted him in the westernmost parking lot of Homewood Suites, Todd said.

After the officer stopped his Police Department vehicle, the body camera video shows, the officer called out to Briandi multiple times, telling Briandi, “Get on the ground!”

Briandi responded, “I didn’t do it,” and he also refused to get on the ground. When Briandi began to approach the officer, brandishing a knife, the officer yelled at him several times to drop the weapon. As Briandi continued to advance toward the officer, the officer fired two shots at him.

The officer has been with the department for nearly 17 years, Todd said; he is assigned to the Patrol Division.

Only 10 minutes elapsed between the alleged attack on the woman in the Publix parking lot and the shooting, Todd pointed out.

In response to a question, Todd called the scene of the alleged crime “a really safe part of town.” He added of the incident, “I would go so far as to call this a random encounter.”

Criminal history cited

“We haven’t spoken to Briandi,” Todd reported during the press conference. “We want to make sure we maintain the integrity of [FDLE’s] investigation.”

However, Todd did note that Briandi is “a multi-state offender,” having been charged in the past with crimes in New York and, he believed, West Palm Beach.

In 2003, Todd noted, Briandi was charged with Obstruction of Justice in a Sarasota case.

Briandi’s criminal records date to 1973, Todd said.

A Police Department news release reported that Briandi had been charged in the past with counts of Burglary (1975), Larceny (1973), and Driving Under the Influence (1978).

A Sarasota News Leader review of the 2003 obstruction case found that the incident occurred on Jan. 9 that year at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Hillview Street.

The narrative said that officers were on the “scene of a very serious head-on collision involving three vehicles and multiple victims.” Both the northbound and southbound lanes of U.S. 41 were closed to traffic, it added, because of “the large area that the crash scene encompassed.”

The eastbound lane of Hillview Street also was closed because of the re-routing of traffic from southbound U.S. 41, the narrative noted.

About 2:30 p.m., it continued, a yellow Cadillac being driven by Briandi drove around one of the Police Department vehicles “which was positioned to block off eastbound Hillview. The driver had to carefully maneuver to deliberately go around the vehicle,” the narrative said.

The officer who wrote the report added that he instructed the driver to make a U-turn to proceed west on Hillview, as the intersection was closed. “He yelled to me that he was about out of gas,” the officer wrote of the driver. Nonetheless, the officer told Briandi to turn around. Yet, Briandi “continued to inch forward,” the narrative said.

When the officer tried to get Briandi to stop, the narrative added, Briandi “yelled out, ‘F**k you” and ‘floored’ it. He initially ‘aimed’ at me, ducked his head down, then accelerated at a high rate of speed south, over the southwest curb of Hillview between a sign post and [the aforementioned Police Department vehicle] which was positioned to [protect] the crime scene investigators just south of that.”

Then Briandi attempted to merge into traffic, the narrative pointed out, but the number of vehicles present prevented him from doing so.

At that point, the officer wrote, the officer ran over to Briandi’s vehicle and ordered him to get out. The officer then placed him under arrest for Obstruction, the narrative said. Briandi “stated later that he was impatient and that he thought I was just being hard to deal with,” the narrative added.

On Jan. 28, 2003, Briandi pleaded guilty to the charge, court records show.

The News Leader review of court records also found that Briandi had been charged with a number of traffic crimes, including speeding, failure to display vehicle registration and careless driving. The last case prior to the incident this week occurred in August 2019, when he was charged with running a stop sign, court records show.

Additionally, the records note that his marriage was dissolved in April 2009.

‘Be aware of your surroundings’

In the aftermath of the purported attack this week, Todd of the Criminal Investigations Division encouraged people to keep in mind the old axiom about being aware of one’s surroundings. Even as a law enforcement officer, he told the reporters, he has realized that he has walked into Publix stores while talking on his phone, paying no attention to anyone or anything around him.

Anyone who sees something suspicious should report it, he added.

The Town & Country Plaza, which was redeveloped by Benderson Development Co. several years ago, includes not only the Publix store, but also a Big Lots, a Bealls store, a Planet Fitness gym, a Dollar Tree and numerous dining establishments, according to mallscenters.com.

The shopping center is north of the intersection of Fruitville Road and North Beneva Road.

Benderson Development’s offices are in University Park, just north of the line between Sarasota and Manatee counties.

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