ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Sgt. Gary Morales and his assailant weren't unseen in a troubled residential neighborhood when Morales was fatally shot following a traffic stop the morning of Feb. 28, according to newly released investigative reports.
Deputies found a bystander who saw the shooting on Naylor Drive, on the southern outskirts of Fort Pierce.
According to the witness, Morales, in a marked vehicle with emergency lights on, followed a speeding red Toyota that stopped, causing Morales to veer left to avoid a collision on Naylor, leaving the two cars close together, according to investigative reports.
The driver, who allegedly was Eriese Tisdale, 25 — who now is charged with first-degree murder — "got out of the driver's side and ran over to the driver side of the deputy's vehicle" and fired, the report states.
The assailant stepped away, then stepped back toward Morales and fired three more shots, according to the witness, who had been cleaning his property on Naylor Drive.
One bullet severed Morales' main neck artery, contributing to his death and soaking his clothing in blood.
Backup Deputy Clarence Bennett, according to the reports, was in the same neighborhood, heard shots and arrived in time to allegedly see Tisdale's "arm extended toward Morales ... he heard (more) gunshots as he saw the suspect's arm extended toward Morales, with a gun in his hand."
Then the assailant aimed at Bennett. Bennett fired. The assailant ducked between the cars, then got in his late model Toyota and fled — only to be apprehended shortly afterward as he attempted to elude deputies, one of whom said he saw Tisdale smiling and laughing.
When Tisdale was finally stopped after crashing into another vehicle, he told deputies he wanted them to know his side of the story: that he felt that he was being harassed and was in fear of his life, according to a transcribed copy of an interview done within hours of the 9:30 a.m. shooting Feb. 28.
"I just wanted to survive" a situation that Tisdale said started out with Morales, in Tisdale's estimation, stopping him for no apparent reason as he was driving to get a soda for his pregnant girlfriend.
During the lengthy interview, investigators at times sounded skeptical of Tisdale's explanation.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said, "You gotta come up with something better. Tell me you were stoned out of your mind, tell me you were hearing voices. That's gonna fly, that's gonna fly a heck of a lot better than, ‘I was acting in self-defense.'"
Still, Tisdale said he felt cornered in a life-threatening situation and he was the one who walked away alive.
Within hours of the shooting, investigators interviewed Tisdale's girlfriend, Jessica Maldanado, who lived at an apartment a block from the shooting scene.
There searchers found guns, including a stolen gun, marijuana and cocaine, the reports state. Some of the marijuana was in her bra drawer.
When asked about the guns, she was quoted as saying "everybody has a right to protect themselves."
That including keeping a black handgun in his car's glove compartment.
Maldanado said Tisdale was a fun guy, but he was selfish and self-centered, and spent money on himself rather than on his unborn child.
And he "was just tired of being harassed by law enforcement," according to a deputy's account of her statements.
She "said Tisdale would be stopped (by authorities) for speeding, walking in the neighborhood or riding his bike to the store ...," yet "he had no negative feelings about law enforcement."
He joked about it and once commented about cutting his dreadlocks and covering his tattoos so law enforcement wouldn't stop him, she said.
Investigators interviewed Dennis Richardson, who lived with Tisdale and this mother for three years in Jupiter. The two men also worked together at Surface Chemists of Florida, where Tisdale was a lab technician.
He was a "great guy," Richardson was quoted as saying. "He wasn't an aggressive type. He is pretty laid back," the reports state.
Richardson knew Tisdale had been arrested on marijuana and cocaine charges in South Florida, but nothing prepared him for the murder arrest.
"I'm just sick about it man ... because I can't — I don't see him doing that (murder). I never seen that side of him," Richardson was quoted as saying.