Deputy William Gentry was only responding to a dispute over a cat.
A homeowner in a Lake Placid, Florida, neighborhood had called 911 to complain that a neighbor shot her cat Sunday evening. Gentry arrived with a deputy-in-training to speak to the cat’s owner, then ventured over to the neighbor’s front door by himself to confront the man who allegedly killed the cat with a pellet gun.
That’s when police say 69-year-old Joseph Edward Ables pulled out a gun and shot Gentry in the head.
The nine-year veteran of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office died of his injuries at the hospital Monday.
“It was just a typical neighbor dispute that deputies answer all the time. It’s just one of those things that goes along with law enforcement: There is no routine call,” sheriff’s office spokesman Scott Dressel said during a news conference. “All law enforcement officers always have to be on their toes. And unfortunately we’ve had the worst that could happen, happen to us.”
Ables was charged Monday with attempted first-degree murder, possession of a weapon by a felon, resisting an officer with violence, among other things. Dressel said it is likely the charges will be upgraded now that 40-year-old Gentry has died. Court records show that Ables was already on probation for battery of an elderly person at the time he was arrested Sunday.
Gentry, who served as a field training officer, is the first Highlands County deputy to be killed in the line of duty as a result of a crime. Two other Highlands County deputies died in a plane crash in 1995. Dressel said Gentry’s name will be added to a memorial to join the two who died in 1995.
“It hits home in so many ways,” Dressel said. “We are definitely a family here. His brother” – who is also a Highlands deputy – “has already stated he lost his hero, and it’s the same thing for a lot of us.”
On Monday afternoon, dozens of deputies walked out of the sheriff’s office building in single file and saluted the flags as they were lowered to half-staff. Four deputies carried out a memorial wreath – a ring of green and yellow flowers with Gentry’s name displayed over a blue line through the center – and placed it in front of Gentry’s police cruiser, parked on the front lawn with its blue lights flashing.
“To not be there, and to not help him, it hurts,” Lt. Chris Smith told local news station WFLA. “I knew Willie from the beginning of his career. I was one of his first training deputies. . . . It’s like someone took a baseball bat and knocked me in the gut and I was bent over, and I couldn’t get my breath back.”