Palm Beach Gardens, FL – A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy was shot in the face by a known MS-13 gang member on Thursday night.
The incident occurred at about 8 p.m. on May 16 during a Palm Beach County Narcotics Task Force operation to apprehend 32-year-old Michael Nieto, WPTV reported.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said his department’s tactical team had been tracking Nieto for months.
They had already done four separate drug buys from him of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, The Palm Beach Post reported.
On Thursday night, undercover officers had finally set up a drug buy with Nieto which the task force believed would give them a solid arrest and an opportunity for the suspect to be questioned about MS-13’s involvement in the local drug operation.
Task force members had warrants to search Nieto’s house and car, The Palm Beach Post reported.
Sheriff Bradshaw said they waited for Nieto to arrive at the designated meet-up spot and pull into a parking spot away from the public before deputies dressed in tactical gear that said “Sheriff” approached the known gang member’s car and identified themselves, WPTV reported.
The sheriff said that Nieto immediately opened fire on the deputies, firing three shots from a revolver.
One of those bullets tore into the face of a sheriff’s deputy, WPTV reported.
The entire tactical team returned fire and Nieto was destroyed by the gunfire.
The deputy was transported to St. Mary’s Medical Center where he was immediately taken into surgery for the bullet lodged in his cheekbone, according to WPTV.
It is expected that the deputy will have to undergo several more surgeries but should ultimately recover. He is in stable condition as of Friday morning, Sheriff Bradshaw said.
Court records showed that would-be cop killer Nieto had been arrested no fewer than five times since 2004 in Palm Beach County alone, WPTV reported.
He was released from state prison in July of 2018 after serving time for firing a weapon into a building and discharging a firearm from a car, according to court records.
Sheriff Bradshaw admitted that the Salvadoran gang MS-13 has gained a foothold in Palm Beach County, although he said they aren’t the biggest gang problem.
“They’re trying to get a stronghold and we’re not going to let them,” he said.
“The bottom line is you see all these law enforcement officers across the country that are getting killed every single day because these gang members and these people out here, they don’t have the slightest hesitation to kill a law enforcement officer anymore,” Sheriff Bradshaw told reporters at the press conference late Thursday night. “It was almost unheard of 20 years ago… now it becomes commonplace. And it’s gotta stop.”
The sheriff said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) would be the lead agency investigating the officer-involved shooting, but he also said they would be assisted by the State’s Attorney’s Office and the sheriff’s department’s internal affairs division.
Sheriff Bradshaw has not yet released the name of the wounded deputy.
Neighbors in the Turnbury Apartments heard the gun battle unfold, The Palm Beach Post reported.
Ryan Wade said his roommate had just called him to report a large police presence in their neighborhood when the gunfire erupted.
“As soon as I hung up the phone I heard [gunfire], like 20 gunshots [from] clearly different guns,” Wade said. “I had a thought that it might be fireworks, but then you have that thought in your head like ‘Nah, it’s a gun.’”