Words from long ago by witnesses to the fatal shooting of a young Philadelphia man by Gregory Tony, then 14, appear to contradict his insistence that he fired in self-defense.
Now the Broward County sheriff, Tony has been under intense scrutiny from the Florida Commission on Ethics, which this past week found probable cause that he misused his position by providing misleading statements to authorities on a police job application, driver’s license renewal and a state law enforcement certification form about his past.
The most prominent issue includes Tony’s 1993 arrest as a juvenile after killing Hector “Chino” Rodriguez following an argument on a Philadelphia street. But he was acquitted, and the case was expunged.
Now, the ethics commission has released Philadelphia police case-file documents, obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, about the 39-year-old case and other issues examined by the panel. They contain witness interviews and other police files, which are devoid of testimony that Rodriguez was armed during the deadly encounter.
The case documents show Rodriguez was shot six times, with several causing wounds behind the left ear, base of the skull, the upper back between the shoulder blades and the right upper back. Others landed above the victim’s left nipple and in the right chest.
Details of the Philadelphia case files were first reported by the Florida Bulldog investigative news website.
Several witnesses interviewed by city police on May 3, 1993, made no mention of Rodriguez possessing a firearm during a heated street argument with Tony.
Attorney Louis Jean-Baptiste Jr., of Tallahassee, who along with his law partner, Stephen Webster, is defending Tony before the commission, declined to comment when reached by telephone on Saturday.
“I have no position on the [shooting] case,” Baptiste said. “Our position remains that the case was expunged. As an officer of the court, I cannot comment on a case that was expunged.”
Asked for comments from Tony, the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s media relations office referred a reporter to his lawyers.
A heated argument
The collection of witness affidavits from the Philadelphia police do not record any of the people they interviewed saying they saw Rodriquez carrying a gun on the day he was killed.
That stands in contrast to what Tony told the Sun Sentinel in 2020, when he recalled the encounter. In an interview at the time, Tony said he didn’t remember exactly how the shooting — “the most difficult, painful experience” of his youth — played out.
“He [Rodriguez] pulled his gun out and made threats, saying he didn’t have any issue shooting me and my brother. … We ran into the house and he chased after us. Fortunately I was able to get my father’s gun,” Tony said in 2020. “Before he was able to shoot me and my brother, I was able to defend myself and shoot him.”
But according to the newly released records from the Philadelphia police file, one witness, David Serrano, whose father operated a nearby neighborhood grocery store, spoke of how those who saw the shooting were stunned by what had happened.
For his part, Serrano indicated to a detective that he saw no reason for the shooting other than a heated argument between Tony and Rodriguez. Serrano said he was in the company of Tony’s older brother, listed in the documents as “Wham.”
The two watched the argument unfold from the front steps of a nearby residence. “When we had got there there was an argument going on between Greg and Hector,” Serrano told the detective. “They were saying stuff back and forth.”
Tony challenged Rodriguez, who was taller and outweighed him, to a fight after he had made a derogatory remark about his mother.
Serrano recalled that “They were saying stuff back and worth. I think the argument started when some piper lady walked down the street and Hector said to Greg, ‘There goes your moma.’ That’s what I heard it started over. When I got there, there was already arguing.”
But Rodriguez, Serrano recalled, declared that Tony “was just a boy and he didn’t fight boys.”
Serrano and other witnesses interviewed said they saw Tony enter his home at 2828 N. Hutchinson St. and retrieve a gun belonging to his father.
A detective had this exchange with Serrano:
“Did you see the gun that Tony shot Hector with today?”
“I just saw the black handle when he put it in his pocket after he shot Hector.”
“Did you see any kind of weapons in Hector’s hand or on his person?”
“In your mind was there any reason for Greg to shoot and kill Hector?”
The detective pressed further.
“Was Greg hurt in any way today by Hector that you know of?”
“What did Hector do when Greg came out of his house with the gun?”
“Hector put his hands up like this. [Indicates surrendering position.] Hector said, ‘If you’re going to shoot me ... shoot me.’ Then Greg just shot him.”
Serrano and others said they saw Tony fire anywhere from four to six times.
“And everybody was like stunned by what had happened because they was friends,” Serrano told the detective.
One of the newly released documents was from 2020, titled “Notes and talking points,” and included Tony’s comments about the deadly shooting. It read, “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.”
Searching for the gun
Besides witnesses who either saw the shooting or heard the shots fired, Philadelphia police spoke with Tony’s father, William Scott.
According to the father’s account, he searched for his .32-caliber Rossi after the shooting and couldn’t find it. Over time, he had kept the weapon in a box or underneath his pillow. His son, Scott said, had seen him place it beneath the pillow in the past.
Scott surrendered the box, paperwork for the gun and rounds of ammunition to police.
Tony ran off after the shooting, witnesses said, and the gun was never retrieved.
Rodriguez died of multiple gunshot wounds after being rushed to a local hospital by car.