Every horse owner and many locals in Manatee County and surrounding locations are on edge that criminals were able to trespass onto a property under cover of darkness, remove an unsuspecting horse from his stall, lead him to the end of the paddocks and mercilessly slaughter him within sight of a highway and not far from the barn. It comes as no surprise, then, that people are keenly aware of strangers and suspicious-looking people. This vigilance was evident in a situation that arose soon after the butchered horse was discovered, but did not find its way to the media until Nov. 10. Apparently a man was almost shot by a deputy in Palmetto after three men were hired by Steve and Debbie Stephens to conduct armed security around their property.
There has been no arrest made as yet for the killing of Phedras de Blondel. Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spoke with two men who were in the Palmetto proximity of Imperial Farms Equestrian Center after the horse killing when their images were captured on a surveillance camera at Circle K in Palmetto. The men were interviewed but had no connection to the crime. Authorities have no new leads to release to the public.
No one has been charged in the case yet and Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said they have no new leads to announce to the public.
During the early morning hours after the horse killing on Oct. 26, a Manatee County deputy stated in his written report that he was executing a special patrol in that rural location because of the recent crime. There he came across a Chevrolet SUV. He found the red vehicle at the intersection of Moccasin Wallow Road and Gillette Drive, parked oddly on the road shoulder. Behind the wheel was a man who seemed to be sleeping. The deputy checked out the car, approached it with his flashlight. In the backseat was a Pitbull, and the driver was holding a revolver in his hand. The deputy “retreated behind his patrol vehicle and called for backup.” He was not taking any chances in case the man was involved in the horse killing incident.
It was not long until the man got out of his car and headed directly for the deputy, who could not see if he still had the gun in hand. The deputy shouted at him continually to “stop and put your hands in the air.” All the while, the deputy had his gun pointed at the man with his finger poised on the trigger. The individual disregarded those orders and approached anyway protesting that he had permission to be there. Per the deputy’s report, he stopped only after the deputy yelled, “I’m going to shoot.”
At this critical time, a backup Manatee County deputy appeared and put the guy into handcuffs. The entire time, he continued to argue with the deputies. A car check turned up the revolver on the driver’s seat.
Upon questioning, the man disclosed he was hired for security by Debbie Stephens and the gun belonged to Steve Stephens. It is not clear whether the individual had any security credentials or was carrying a gun permit.
A female equestrian center employee arrived then and spoke to the deputies, confirming that the Stephens had hired three security guards. She identified the guy as one of those hired to conduct security. A basic background check of the man revealed he had no felony convictions but that his driver’s license was suspended.
The unidentified man was then released. The gun was handed over to the employee for return to Stephens.