Report offers details on firing of Palm Beach Gardens officer who held man at gunpoint (2024)

Ryan Gould called 911 to report a man who threatened him with a gun, only to find himself staring down the barrel of ex-officer Bethany Guerriero's.

Hannah PhillipsPalm Beach Post

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Ryan Gould frowned at the two police officers walking toward him. One aimed a gun between shaking hands, and the other pointed a Taser — unsure of the threat, he said later, but following the older officer’s lead.

Gould, clad in a pair of swim trunks, raised his arms above his head.

"What the (expletive) is this?” he asked.

Palm Beach Gardens officer Bethany Guerriero pulled Gould to the ground and handcuffed him. Gould — who had called 911 minutes earlier to report a crime, only to find himself accused of one — asked why he was being handcuffed.

“Shut your mouth,” Guerriero told him. "I've been here for 20 years, punk. I'm in charge. Not you."

Her encounter with Gould, immortalized in a viral YouTube video called "Innocent Man Arrested by Unhinged Cop," spawned a monthslong investigation in the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department. The city fired Guerriero in August for violating several department policies after the filmed encounter brought "disrepute to the department on a large scale."

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City officials did not elaborate on the incident that brought Guerriero's 19-year career to an end, but a 126-page investigative report released this month contains interviews with several colleagues who witnessed her behavior during a call to the Sabal Ridge apartment complex May 9.

Many described an officer "blinded" by rage, who persuaded them to arrest Gould for a crime he didn't commit. Others spoke of unusual discrepancies between Guerriero's account and that of other officers on the scene, who did not perceive Gould to be a threat.

"I'm a very easygoing guy. There are a lot of things I can forgive and forget," Gould said Tuesday. "But being kidnapped from your home at gunpoint seems like where I need to draw the line."

Surveillance-camera footage vindicated man arrested by fired officer

Gould waited behind other soon-to-be inmates at the Palm Beach County Jail — still stewing, still wearing only swim trunks. The others in line eyed his bare chest and asked what he was there for. He shrugged.

The officers who drove him to jail didn't know, either, Gould said. He'd tried explaining to them what he'd told Guerriero once she stopped screaming at him, her face taut, gun holstered and hands curled into fists.

He'd called 911 that afternoon to report a man for threatening him with a gun during a poolside dispute in Sabal Ridge, a neighborhood along Military Trail near Interstate 95. Dripping wet, he sat in the parking lot and waited for the officers to arrive, pointing the first to the pool and greeting the second — Guerriero — when she arrived moments later.

He tried to wave her toward the pool, too, but she drew her gun and ordered Gould to keep his hands out of his pockets. He'd pulled his phone from his pocket about eight seconds earlier, and he held it in his upraised hands, dumbfounded.

"I told you not to reach for anything," she said as she walked closer, the gun shaking in her two-handed grip.

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Guerriero told her companions that Gould was hostile, "possibly drugged" and that he kept reaching for his pockets despite her commands to stop — all of which was refuted by footage from the officer's body-worn camera and the apartment's surveillance camera.

She said later that she mistook Gould for the armed man he called 911 to report and feared for her safety, but an investigator wrote that her actions belied the excuse. She hadn't taken cover behind her police car, he wrote, hadn't searched Gould for a weapon after she handcuffed him or even asked if he was armed.

Instead, she ridiculed his painted toenails and told him again: "Shut your mouth."

Her colleagues said they didn't see the hostility Guerriero described but took Gould to jail anyway, trusting that she had seen something they hadn't. Guerriero would have driven him to jail herself, but her heart rate had spiked, and she complained of chest pain. She left the apartment in the back of an ambulance while several others remained to investigate.

One of them, Sgt. Dennis Beath, began reviewing surveillance video from the apartment complex. He realized quickly that Gould had done nothing wrong and called another officer, swearing.

"Get that man out of jail," Beath said into the phone. "Get him the (expletive) out of jail, get him out of jail right now. … I'll drive down there personally and pull that man out of jail, and drive him to Red Lobster, and get him something to eat and get him home."

An officer plucked Gould out of line before jail officials could snap his mugshot and drove him home. The officer acted as though he was doing him a favor, Gould said. Like it was his lucky day.

Beath visited Guerriero in her hospital room later, nodding when she asked if someone had taken Gould to jail.

"Good," she said. "That guy needed to go to jail."

"No, he didn't," Beath told her. "Matter of fact, I removed him from jail."

She didn't speak to him again.

Fired Palm Beach Gardens officer had history of violations

Gould filed several complaints with Palm Beach Gardens police, triggering the internal affairs investigation one day after his arrest. Guerriero's behavior — deemed peculiar and concerning by several of her peers — fell under scrutiny both online and at police headquarters.

"She's literally grimacing with her hands clutched," Sgt. Marc Glass told the investigating officer. "She has this scowl, tightened lips, the whole bit. Staring at him, Mr. Gould. She's just kind of moving back and forth with her hands."

Beath told the investigator he has "never seen someone act like that."

In the video, Guerriero ignored Gould's insistence that he was a victim, not a suspect, and appeared to grow more incensed the more he challenged her. Her demeanor morphed, no longer an officer charged with de-escalating but a contender in what one person described as a "verbal swordfight" with a man she was intent on punishing.

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Guerriero was on the police force for 19 years and earned more than $101,000 annually, according to her personnel file. She belonged to the department's hostage negotiation team and was praised in several employee reviews for her composure during stressful situations. One supervisor wrote that she is "usually hand picked to handle incidents which involve subjects who are suicidal and confrontational."

Several violations of department policy, however, precede this latest one: accessing a restricted database to snoop on the partner of her former wife, a Delray Beach police officer; leaving her AR-15 rifle inside of her patrol car, which was burglarized; and acting inappropriately toward a person under arrest, similar to how she acted with Gould.

"Being in this job as long as we all have — we have moments throughout our careers that weren't our best," said Guerriero, whose attorney did not return a request for comment. "Was it my finest hour? Absolutely not."

The police department, which had disciplined her after each of the prior offenses, announced her firing Aug. 30. An officer called to tell Gould himself.

"He seemed very proud of firing this woman after 19 years," said Gould, who since has moved out of the Palm Beach Gardens area. "In my mind, the point's been missed."

Firing her doesn't fix what happened, he said. It doesn't make him feel safe going back to Palm Beach Gardens or address the calls for reform that have flooded Gould's inbox since his arrest video, pulled from the apartment's surveillance camera, went viral.

"There were there were many officers there that day that participated in this," Gould said. "It was not just this one woman."

Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her athphillips@pbpost.com.

Report offers details on firing of Palm Beach Gardens officer who held man at gunpoint (2024)
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