‘I thought I was going to die’: Jacksonville man claims ATF agents shot at him during search warrant

ATF agents fired shots after man pointed handgun, investigators say

A Jacksonville man says federal agents nearly killed him while executing a search warrant for a case he’s not involved with.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man says federal agents nearly killed him while executing a search warrant for a case he’s not involved with.

“I thought I was going to die honestly,” said the 30-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous. “That’s just the God honest truth.”

Investigators said agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shot at a wanted suspect who they claim pointed a gun at them.

It happened Thursday after 1 p.m. outside a home on Cocoa Avenue in the Woodland Acres part of Arlington. No one was hit, and agents arrested the suspect. The other two men, including the man who spoke to News4JAX, were detained, questioned and released.

“I thought I was going to lose my life that day. I thought my friend was going to lose his life that day, too,” said the man, who was outside. He claims he was working on a car at his friend’s house and was eating a cheeseburger when a van pulled up with muzzles out the window and opened fire.

News4JAX confirmed he was one of three men in the incident and agreed to his request for anonymity.

“We didn’t know who they were initially and they just started firing shots,” he said. “It seemed like forever. As I’m on the ground, I’m looking at my friend trying to duck for cover and took them at least 2 minutes until they finally stated who they were. And that’s when we realized it was the police. "

The News4JAX I-TEAM pulled federal records which show authorities from ATF were there for 27-year-old Darnell Rice. He’s accused of owning and selling a Glock and a “switch” that made it a machine gun to an ATF confidential informant. The transaction was made in late November for $1,800, documents show. Machine guns are illegal in the United States. Sources tell us the home had numerous weapons inside and some were tied to shootings. Rice is now in federal custody.

On Monday, News4Jax noticed the home has bullet holes in the garage and the security cameras were ripped down.

“When they arrived at the house, a gentleman outside the house picked up a handgun pointed at the ATF agents,” said T.K. Waters, chief of investigations at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

After the scene was secured following the gunfire, Drug Enforcement Administration agents were called in as a neutral law enforcement agency to help ATF agents with their investigation since JSO was called in to investigate the gunfire.

The man who was in the front yard told News4Jax the actions were reckless and dangerous. He says he is a registered, legal gun owner but wasn’t armed at the time. He claims neither was his friend Rice. That’s contrary to what Waters said at the Thursday briefing.

Sources said agents recovered several guns inside the home and noted that some guns in the investigation had been linked to other crimes.

“They’re supposed to be here to protect and serve but at that particular time I felt like they weren’t doing their job in my life was in jeopardy,” the man said, telling News4JAX he wanted to file a complaint against the agents. “I actually thought I was going to die that day.”

News4JAX brought his comments to supervisors at the ATF regional office in Tampa.

“ATF is working with our local law enforcement partners to fully account for the events that occurred last Thursday during an ATF led public safety investigation,” Special Agent in Charge Craig W. Saier said in an email. “Our agency and law enforcement partners will continue to review evidence related to this incident. We cannot respond to statements offered by potential witnesses at this time, as this is an on-going investigation.”

The man News4JAX interviewed and another person inside the home were questioned and released. He said authorities still had his phone, identification, and money. Rice, the only person charged, is due in federal court on Wednesday.

He’s charged with unlawful possession and transfer of a machinegun. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.