Authorities: 'Deputy Shaq' present at botched raid

Updated: October 25, 2006, 12:57 AM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Shaquille O'Neal was present during a botched child pornography raid last month while working in Virginia as a reserve sheriff's deputy.

 Shaquille O'Neal
O'Neal

The Miami Heat center, who pursues his interest in law enforcement during the offseason, denied Tuesday taking part in serving the search warrant at the wrong house Sept. 23. However, Bedford County Sheriff's Lt. Michael Harmony confirmed to The Associated Press that O'Neal was there.

O'Neal, in Orlando to play a preseason game Tuesday, was asked about the raid and several times somewhat playfully responded, "It wasn't me."

The 13-time All-Star has expressed an interest in becoming a Bedford deputy or sheriff somewhere else after his NBA career ends. He also works as a firearms-certified reserve police officer in Miami Beach.

"Of course, being sheriff is a seasoned political position, so we're not going to be out there knocking down the wrong doors," he said. "We just have to do the right thing."

A.J. Nuckols, who said his family has filed formal complaints, wrote in a letter published in the Chatham Star-Tribune that the raid at his Gretna, Va., home "scared beyond description" him and his family.

He described being "held at gunpoint, taunted and led into the house" and said the home was ransacked by a "paramilitary search-and-seizure team" that took computers, cameras, DVDs and VHS tapes.

"Men ran at me, dropped into shooting position, double-handed semiautomatic pistols pointed at me and made me put my hands against my truck," Nuckols wrote.

Nuckols also said in a telephone interview that he heard O'Neal was at his home but didn't specifically see the 7-foot-1, 325-pound All-Star in all the commotion.

It wasn't until later authorities realized they had been given the wrong IP address, which Internet service providers can use to identify users, leading them to the wrong physical address, Harmony said. It was the Internet company's mistake, he said.

Harmony said the sheriff's office apologized, but Nuckols mischaracterized the incident. Harmony said officers were wearing bulletproof vests and may have been in dark or camouflaged clothing but were not carrying assault rifles or wearing helmets.

"The sheriff's department does regret that Mr. Nuckols and his family had to go through this, however we were operating under the scope of what we were supposed to do," he said.

He said officers had to secure the house to ensure their own safety. Harmony also said the sheriff's office conducted a successful search on the correct home Friday, finding child pornography and securing a statement from a man admitting he knowingly distributed it.

Nuckols said he has filed formal complaints with the Bedford and Pittsylvania sheriff's offices, who conducted the raid with members of child sex-crime unit Operation Blue Ridge Thunder.

The Bedford Sheriff's Office enlisted O'Neal to be the spokesman and public face of its anti-child pornography and child predator campaign, making him a deputy last year.

Harmony said O'Neal had been on search warrant executions before.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press