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Sarasota Friday, Jul. 14, 2017 1 year ago

Sarasota city manager helps apprehend robbery suspect

Tom Barwin subdued a shirtless man as he attempted to rob an elderly woman leaving church.
by: Ryan Butler News Innovation Editor

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin was among three good Samaritans who apprehended and subdued an individual attempting to rob a woman as she was leaving a church service July 14.

According to a release from the city, Barwin was bicycling to lunch near Orange Avenue and Second Street in downtown Sarasota around 12:30 p.m. when he observed a shirtless man walking toward oncoming traffic. According to Barwin, the man in question was banging on car doors and demanding money from one of the drivers. 

Barwin said he assumed it was a domestic incident, but after the driver pulled over he determined the man had no relation to her and was "clearly delusional and under the influence of something." In a press conference later that day, Barwin said, "We've since found out he allegedly had heroin inside his body cavities."

While Barwin began to dial the Sarasota Police Department, the man headed toward St. Martha Catholic Church, where he followed a woman as she exited the building. As other parishioners poured out of the Church, Barwin followed the man and heard a commotion.

"I heard screams, and I pictured him on top of somebody, pummeling them," Barwin said. "That was my worst fear."

In a security video from the church, Barwin is seen approaching the man in question, trying to separate him from the woman he was pursuing. Two construction workers, Miquel Tellez and Arnaldo Monrroy, likewise heard the incident and intervened.

The three subdued the man, identified as 28-year-old Jason Perez of Sarasota, for around two minutes until a uniformed SPD officer arrived on scene.

"It was a bit of a frightening situation," Barwin said. "There's no telling what he would do."

In that time, an onlooker kicked Perez while he was being restrained. Barwin said that man too was in an unhinged mental state, likely emotionally charged after witnessing someone getting attacked. 

Sarasota Police charged Perez with attempted robbery and battery on a victim over 65 years of age, according to the release. He is still in the Sarasota County Jail as of the afternoon of July 14.

Police records show this is third time Perez has been arrested by authorities in Sarasota County in the past year.

Barwin has been a public administrator for more than 30 years, including nearly five years as the Sarasota city manager.  He had previously worked as a police officer in Warren, Michigan, where he received law enforcement training.

During the press conference, Barwin said he was nervous in the situation, but his training in de-escalating potentially dangerous situations prepared him to handle the incident. He said he was confident he would be able to disarm the suspect if he had a concealed knife or gun. 

"We're trained to calm things down, de-escalate as much as you can and try to control the situation without making things worse and without anyone getting hurt," Barwin said. "Fortunately that's the way this all worked out."

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