By Lee Williams
Published: Friday, March 25, 2016 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 25, 2016 at 6:14 p.m.
Chris Brooks, his wife and their two daughters spent nearly a year and a half wondering whether he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Arrested Oct. 25, 2014 at his home in Polk County, he was charged with second-degree attempted murder for shooting his neighbor Curtis Hamrick during a confrontation.
Hamrick’s son had molested Brooks’ daughter several years before the shooting. Brooks, 39, maintained he shot his neighbor, who survived the wound, in self defense, a “Stand Your Ground” case.
Before his arrest, Brooks supported his family by working several jobs throughout the region as a gunsmith, instructor and range officer, and at a small studio in Sarasota where he customized guns.
But the violent felony charge changed everything.
“I became toxic. No gun shop wants to hire someone who’s facing second-degree attempted murder charges,” he said. “I couldn’t even apply for a job bagging groceries because of the background check.”
This week, Polk County prosecutors announced they were dropping all charges against Brooks.
Their decision came in a five-page memo, which his attorney says raises even more questions about the shooting and why Brooks was charged in the first place.
The memo buttresses Brooks’ self-defense claim, which Polk County deputies and detectives ultimately ignored.
“They arrested me to teach me a lesson,” Brooks said this week. “They arrested me for making trouble for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, by complaining and continually calling them for help. They arrested me for being a pain in their ass.”
In response to inquiries from the Herald-Tribune, Polk County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Donna Wood said the agency would not comment about the case.
While he’s no longer facing life in prison, Brooks said he does not consider the matter resolved.
Brooks lived in Mulberry, a small town in rural Polk County, with his then-fiance and her two daughters.
In 2006, his fiance’s daughter, who was 4 at the time, was molested by Hamrick’s stepson Bryan James Mace, then a 14-year-old who lived across the street.
Mace, now 22, pleaded no-contest to the charges, was adjudicated as a delinquent and was sent to a juvenile detention center.
When Mace was released, Brooks obtained a permanent restraining order barring him from coming within 500 feet of his home. The order effectively prohibited Mace from visiting his parents’ house, as it is well within the 500-foot limit.
About a month before the shooting, Mace was arrested for violating this court order, state records show.
“He was walking around the neighborhood and in front of our home very suspiciously,” Brooks said at the time. “I called the cops and they took him away.”
Mace pleaded no contest to violating the court order, was fined $50 and sentenced to one year of probation.
On Oct. 25, 2014 Brooks called authorities again, telling them Mace was in his driveway yelling obscenities and making threats against his daughter. According to court documents, Brooks told deputies Mace said: “I don’t care. (expletive) her. I’ll get that bitch.”
Mace was arrested, taken to the Polk County Jail and charged with violating the restraining order and violating his probation.
Efforts by the Herald-Tribune to reach him or his family for comment were not successful.
Once Mace was arrested, his family and friends began gathering at his parents’ home across the street, Brooks said, hurling insults and screaming threats. Brooks said he and his wife called the Sheriff’s Office numerous times for help.
That evening about 7 p.m., Brooks returned home and parked in the driveway.
As he was retrieving something from the back seat of his car two men approached him, Hamrick and a friend. Someone pushed Brooks.
“They said I was trying to ruin their son, and that I was gonna get it, and that I was in for it,” Brooks said at the time. “They knocked my glasses off. I couldn’t see. We struggled back and forth. That’s when I unzipped my bag, pulled my gun and made my shot.”
Court documents show that the .45-caliber round that Brooks fired penetrated Hamrick’s “upper left abdomen and continued through his upper left arm.”
Brooks said that he not only feared for his life, he worried the assailants would “get past me and get into the house and attack the girls.”
But Hamrick told deputies another version, saying he believed Brooks had a suspended driver’s license — Brooks’ license is valid — and that he approached Brooks because “he wanted to capture a picture of him operating a motor vehicle.” The prosecutor’s memo indicates that Hamrick admitted he took nothing with him to take a photograph.
After the shooting, both sides in the dispute called 911.
Polk County sheriff’s Detective William “Michael” Rushing determined it was a “bad shoot” and arrested Brooks for second-degree attempted murder.
Rushing had recently been promoted to detective, making this his first big case.
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