Crime

‘Hero’ cop in library shootout involved in two other shootings, wounded in one

Six years ago, after a mentally ill Air Force veteran shot Miami-Dade police Officer Saul Rodriguez’s partner point blank in the chest, Rodriguez returned fire and killed the man.

In 2013, Rodriguez was shot in the stomach by a man who stole the officer’s patrol car after robbing a Walgreens and who would later be killed in a hail of more than 300 bullets from police officers.

READ MORE: Gunfire in library causes chaos

On Wednesday, Rodriguez again encountered gunfire, this time shooting a man who opened fire in Miami-Dade’s main downtown library after arguing with another man about a woman.

Rodriguez’s trio of encounters are an outlier. The vast majority of police officers go their entire careers without ever firing a weapon or being fired at while on duty.

Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez, who called the three incidents “a rare scenario,” said his officer acted in a “heroic manner” on Wednesday at the library.

Rodriguez “potentially saved at least one life, if not many,” the director said. “I’m proud of how he handled the critical situation.”

Rodriguez, a 17-year veteran, was working an off-duty job in uniform at the main library, 101 W. Flagler St., on Wednesday morning, when two men began arguing and one of them pulled a gun.

Then, according to police and witnesses, Roderick Oliver Veazey, 64, briefly chased Carl Cooperstein, 63, firing his weapon at least twice on the library’s main floor near stacks of books and dozens of people.

Rodriguez heard the commotion and went after Veazey, firing his gun and striking him in the midsection. Miraculously, Veazey’s own shots missed their mark and Cooperstein and library patrons were unharmed. Veazey, who remained hospitalized Thursday, was charged with attempted second-degree murder with a deadly weapon.

For Rodriguez, Wednesday’s shooting was at least the third high-profile gunfire incident he has been involved in the past six years.

The first incident took place in August 2011, while Rodriguez and his partner, William Vazquez, were confronting a mentally ill Air Force veteran who was threatening suicide. After Catawaba Howard, 32, shot Vazquez point blank in the chest, Rodriguez and Vazquez returned fire and killed the military veteran. Vazquez was saved by a protective vest.

Then in December 2013, Rodriguez was one of three police officers shot during a wild chase involving a man who ripped off a Walgreens, stole a patrol car and was later killed in a hail of hundreds of bullets fired by police officers.

According to police and witnesses, Adrian Montesano, the son of a Hialeah internist and real estate developer, ripped off a Flagami Walgreens at gunpoint. Surveillance video showed Montesano holding a woman around the neck, his gun pointed at her head.

He fled the store. But when police thought they had him cornered a short time later in a trailer park 22 blocks away, Montesano shot Rodriguez in the stomach, stole his gun and took off in his patrol car.

Montesano eventually ditched the patrol car, commandeered another vehicle and picked up a friend before dozens of police cornered him as he drove a light blue Volvo in Hialeah. After the car crashed, officers opened fire. And they kept firing.

In all, police said 23 officers from several agencies fired at least 377 rounds. Montesano and his friend were killed. Four years later, the shootings still haven’t been cleared by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez, who underwent surgery for his stomach wound, left the hospital less than a week later and eventually returned to work.

Police union president John Rivera said that statistically, it’s quite rare for an officer to shoot or be shot at. And Rodriguez, Rivera said, never sought confrontation.

“He’s not looking for trouble,” said the union chief. “Trouble just happens to stumble on him.”

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