When Bradenton Police Department Lt. William Weldon walked up to a jewelry store early Sunday, he didn’t think he would end up fighting for his life.
He thought, as a dispatcher had told him, he was meeting with a resident after an alarm system was tripped.
Weldon, a 15-year veteran, knew he had already shown himself to the burglar, he said, when he shined his flashlight inside the jewelry store in the 2400 block of Ninth Street West through a smashed door, so he had to react quickly.
Isaac Hernandez Dubon, 23, was unarmed, he noticed. Weldon said he wasn’t going to fire on an unarmed man, but a struggle would ensue between the veteran officer and a man several years younger than him.
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“I was afraid for my life,” Weldon said. “I didn’t know what to expect from him. All I knew was that I needed to keep control of him until my backup officers got there.”
Weldon thought he had Hernandez under control, so he put his flashlight down on the jewelry store counter and re-holstered his gun, so he could attempt to handcuff him. But Hernandez then reached for the officer’s gun.
There were no words exchanged between Weldon and the suspect, a Honduran citizen who entered the United States illegally, during the struggle, which was captured by surveillance cameras.
Hernandez began to gouge at his eyes and hit him in the face, Weldon recalled Wednesday as he discussed a video recording of the encouter during a press conference at the Bradenton Police headquarters Wednesday morning.
“His fingers were inside my eye sockets,” Weldon said.
Just before other officers arrived and after Hernandez had made a second attempt to take his weapon, the lieutenant said he pushed the suspect away from him and took out his weapon again. His vision was now blurred and he was seeing four images of the suspect, so with a large sweeping motion he swung the firearm at Hernandez, knocking him to the ground.
When officers rushed in seconds later, Weldon leaned over the store counter, tired and in pain.
Hernandez was arrested and charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, unarmed burglary of an unoccupied structure, theft and resisting arrest with violence. He appeared before a judge Monday afternoon and was ordered held on bonds totaling $12,000. Federal officials also placed an immigration hold on Hernandez.
Hernandez was found with stolen jewelry and other stolen items worth $462.70, according to police.
Police say that Hernandez is currently a suspect in other burglaries in the immediate area, including at least one other business. He has no known criminal history in the United States.
First thing Monday morning, Police Chief Melanie Bevan said the department contacted alarm company officials and had them launch an investigation into how erroneous information was given to dispatchers.
“Errors on their part almost resulted in a catastrophic event here in the city of Bradenton,” Bevan said. “We don’t take that lightly, and we are going to hold them responsible for that.”
While pistol-whipping by an officer is against use-of-force policies, Bevan said Weldon will not face any sort of internal affairs investigation. Bevan expressed her pride in how the lieutenant humbly told her he was thankful that he, and not one of the officers under his command, had been the one to respond. Weldon credited his training as a former Marine and an officer.
“I think we do a great job with training our officers, but we’ll never have enough training,” the chief said. “Every day we arrive to work, it’s training in progress.”
Weldon attempted to return to duty, but the department has given him paid leave to allow him time to recover from his injuries.
Since Sunday, Weldon has been filled with mixed emotions about what unfolded early Sunday morning. Like other officers who are put in similar situation, he said he wondered if there was anything he could have done differently. He also comforted his wife, who was equally affected, he said.
At the end of the day, he was grateful that both he and Hernandez walked away from the situation.
“That’s the way it should have ended up,” Weldon said. “We don’t come to work thinking we are going to have to shoot somebody, that we want to have to shoot somebody. Anytime you get into a fight like this, and you can walk away, is always a good day.”