OSI teammates thwart murder attempt

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

The Office of Special Investigations is praising two of its members for intervening during a domestic abuse incident ending in a man being charged with attempted murder and a woman clinging to life.

In a twist of fate, Special Agent Michael Robinette and Staff Sgt. Phillip Sibold, then-assigned to OSI Detachment 802 at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, were bystanders to an off-base assault involving a naked man who purposely hit a woman with a truck, strangled and punched her in broad daylight.

According to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, the lead investigative agency for the case, the outcome could have been different if the OSI team had not been nearby to step in before local officials arrived.

“I highly commend the actions of the two agents who intervened in this violent incident,” said Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. “Without hesitation they intervened, detained the subject and saved the life of the victim who was unable to defend herself from this brutal attack.”

The praise was seconded by Brig. Gen. Terry L. Bullard, OSI commander, who stopped by Det. 802, March 2, to coin the investigators and personally commend them for their heroic actions.

“Their actions show two of OSI's goals; to defend the nation and pursue justice,” Bullard said. “I am proud to serve alongside these men and I believe their courageous actions saved a life that day.

“This incident illustrates how important our agents are not only in protecting the Department of the Air Force but also within their communities,” he continued.

Answering the call

On November 18, 2021, Robinette and Sibold had spent the morning doing a photo line-up in Port St. Lucie, Florida, for an unrelated investigation before traveling north on I-95 back to the detachment.

As the afternoon wore on, they stopped for lunch and were only a few miles from their detachment when the situation suddenly changed, Robinette said.

It seemed like a typical traffic jam at first. While waiting for the vehicles to move, they noticed a 2014 Dodge Ram had wrecked into a wooded area near the I-95 on-ramp, explaining why both lanes of traffic were backed up.

The sky was overcast and colorless, with a slow drizzle. Perhaps the rainfall caused the accident, they thought. They also saw a small crowd of motorists crowding the median for a closer look.

Near the wrecked truck, a large man approached the crowd with a metal gardening rake, Robinette said. There were no first responders nearby, so whatever happened was recent.

Despite a lack of jurisdiction, a physical altercation seemed imminent. In addition, someone may have required medical help, Robinette said.

They jumped into action, figuring it was a case of road rage and the onlookers were hoping for a front-row view of the fight. But as they approached the scene it was obvious things were much worse than they expected.

The investigators went into a reflex mode and relied on gut instincts and military training, they said, drawing their sidearms with the quickness of Wild West gunslingers.

Even though they later acknowledged it was their first time using their weapons in such a setting, their training came naturally to them.

“I’ve drawn my weapon to clear houses and different areas under operations, but in the scenario, it’s kind of game-time decision,” he continued. “It was my first time drawing on my firearm like that, but it was one of those things where it’s just stuff you were taught that just kicks in.”

They announced themselves as law enforcement officers and ordered the man to drop the rake. He obliged. However, as they approached the group, it was clear he was just stopping something significantly worse, Robinette said.

Their eyes were drawn to a bloodied woman lying in the wet grass. A nude male assaulting her with “a death grip on her hair,” Robinette said.

The observers were terrified, not entertained. Some were filming with their cell phones, while others were screaming for the assailant to stop. “I heard people yelling, ‘He just hit her with his effing truck! He’s going to kill her!” Robinette said.

Despite having multiple guns pointed at him, the man did not flinch. Robinette put his weapon away and Sibold provided cover. At that point, the nine-year OSI veteran charged toward the man. He got ahold of the man's leg but couldn't grip it because the grass was so wet.

In a literal leap of faith, Robinette launched himself onto the man's bareback and wrestled him to the ground. In that harrowing moment, Sibold lowered his firearm and turned his attention to the unresponsive victim. 

“Once we got him subdued, I went over and checked the woman's vitals and treated her for shock,” Sibold said. “I did what I could to make sure she was OK, but she was looking pretty lifeless.”

Though the light in her eyes dimmed, Sibold said he continued giving her initial care until Brevard County first responders arrived. The restrained male kept saying the woman was fine and telling her to get up.

Within minutes, the wailing sirens of police vehicles became more intense. Soon, other emergency vehicles joined the cacophony.

“Once the sheriff's office arrived, we took the backseat,” Robinette said. “They had the situation under control, so it was calm at that point. The ambulance also came out to assess the female. I guess she was going downhill pretty quick.”

An ambulance transported the woman to the hospital, where she was later released.  

After the chaos subsided, a clearer picture was revealed. Several witnesses told authorities the couple were riding together in the truck before the passenger got out and fled. As she ran near the I-95 on-ramp, the driver deliberately struck her with the truck and then crashed into a wooded area.

According to his arrest warrant, the driver exited the wrecked vehicle, approached the victim and aggressively grabbed her by the hair and throat and assaulted her. Soon after, the nearby OSI members took down the suspect and attended to the victim.

The Brevard County investigation later revealed the man and woman were dating, however, officials said what caused the situation to escalate was not clarified. The suspect was also taken to the hospital and treated for lesser injuries before being charged with attempted murder.

Later, the man told authorities he intended to kill the victim, said Tod Goodyear, BCSO public information officer. Eyewitness accounts and dash-cam video footage from the scene supported this conclusion.

As a result, the suspect was booked without bail for attempted first-degree murder, where he is incarcerated today. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 3, 2022.

‘Just one of those things’

When local police officers responded, they presumed the OSI investigators were part of the nearby police academy and got wind of the situation and came running like a vigilante crime-fighting duo, Sibold said jokingly.

In the end, all the circumstances that led the investigators to the crime felt like one-in-a-million odds. But, being at the right place at the right time went beyond showing up. It also meant being prepared for the worst-case scenario when you least expect it, Robinette said. 

“Thank God for training,” he continued. “We did what we were supposed to. We covered each other, assessed the threat and took action.”

Ultimately, the incident was also an important reminder of the responsibility OSI has, whether they are in a deployed environment or simply merging off Florida's coastal highway; Anything can happen, they said.

It's one of those things where we thought, ‘OK, obviously someone’s life is in danger. We need to do what we can to settle this down and hope [local] law enforcement was coming as soon as possible,” Robinette said.

Today, Robinette is still at Patrick SFB, but is now assigned to the OSI Office of Procurement Fraud Det. 5 OL-D.

Sibold is still at Det. 802, but plans to attend the Air Force Special Investigations Academy later this month. Despite the changes in their OSI careers, the lessons learned that afternoon will always be a reminder for them, they said.

“There could be a situation that calls for a response, either from a good bystander standpoint or as a law enforcement officer when you’re not expecting it," Robinette said. So, “if you’re a sworn federal officer and you need to respond to something for the safety of a citizen, that’s part of your duty.”

Editor’s note: Those experiencing domestic violence can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 for expert help at 1-800-799-7233.