PALM BAY, Fla. – Nearly 12 hours after Palm Bay officers were fired on during an overnight traffic stop, a man suspected of being the shooter was taken into custody following a massive search. Palm Bay police — joined by more than 50 law enforcement agents from surrounding agencies — combed through thick brush and canal lines for hours in search of a man who fired several rounds at officers during a Sunday morning traffic stop, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
Officers located the man wanted for questioning in the shooting - identified as Joseph Martin Martinez of Lake Worth - about 3 p.m. Sunday. “He actually jumped up and tried to run from the officers,” said Lt. Jeff Spears, spokesperson for the Palm Bay Police Department.
“He was hiding under thick brush and apparently heard our officers coming,” he said, adding Martinez was being transported to the police department.
Authorities said the four officers targeted in the shooting were not injured in the 3:20 a.m. incident that prompted the massive search response. The shooting took place near the entrance of the gated Parkside West subdivision on Snapdragon Drive and Malabar Road.
The officers had been responding to a call about a reckless driver in the neighborhood.
“Within two minutes, two minutes of that traffic stop, shots were exchanged,” Palm Bay Police Chief Nelson Moya said during a press conference earlier Sunday before Martinez was located.
“The officers were able to return gunfire in defense of the aggression before the suspect continued to flee into a wooded area. Since then, as you can imagine, there has been a massive police presence. We are absolutely in a mode to seek, capture and arrest this individual and bring him to justice,” Moya said, adding he was thankful that the officers were not injured.
Police identified Martinez, a 26-year-old, earlier in the day.
The large police presence is in response to an officer involved shooting. Our officers are fine, suspect is still outstanding. Staging area for media will be at the Post Office at Malabar and Jupiter. A press conference will be held shortly.— Palm Bay PD (@PalmBayPD) March 7, 2021
Moya said the driver attempted to flee and was even tased before he managed to fire on the officers and run into the surrounding brush packed with tall Australian pines, palm trees, palmetto brush, and small sandy ponds.
According to the arrest report from Palm Bay Police, Martinez fired four shots at officers before he managed to run off, News 6 confirmed. One officer returned fire, records show.
Martinez was not injured, Spears said.
“The brush can get very heavy in the area where he fled and is known for its density. He was able to duck in and out of cover,” Moya said earlier.
Dan Holmes, a resident who lives nearby, was asleep when the gunshots rattled off nearby. “It woke us up. We were looking out the window,” Holmes said.
“I’m pretty much a light sleeper. It’s very rare for this area to hear that kind of gunfire, even though we can hear the gunfire from the range. But this was too late and too close for the range. Our dogs went crazy and the police were flying through our neighborhood within minutes,” Holmes said.
Police shut down Heritage Parkway at Malabar Road where the incident — which began as a traffic stop — took place and alerted residents to remain indoors. Elevation Church, which uses Heritage High School for its Sunday services, had to cancel worship services as police fanned out to search for the man, believed armed and dangerous.
A Brevard County Sheriff’s helicopter hovering overhead joined the search. The agency also called in assistance from Melbourne, West Melbourne, Osceola, and Florida Fish and Wildlife agencies to help with the massive search using everything from police dogs to helicopters. The area searched was described as about a quarter-mile wide.
Throughout the afternoon a helicopter could be seen hovering over the area. Nearby on Malabar Road, officers in tactical gear could be seen with binoculars looking south toward the canal. Brevard County sheriff’s deputies were stationed in several surrounding subdivisions dotted with small lakes and bracketed by woods.
The helicopter was able to find Martinez’s heat signature in the heavily wooded area, allowing law enforcement to maintain a perimeter, according to the report.
The city’s SWAT team, along with tactical teams, also responded and staged at the city’s garage depot.
Residents in the surrounding area were told to remain indoors as police searched for the unidentified person.
The unidentified vehicle that officers stopped was tracked back to a home off of Snapdragon.
News 6 confirmed the owner of the car had attempted to report the vehicle as stolen after waking up at 5 a.m. and noticed the car was missing, according to the police report.
Investigators learned that the owner traveled from Lake Worth with Martinez and her cousin to visit a family member, according to police. Records show Martinez was already on probation for an armed carjacking in Palm Beach County and was not supposed to leave the area without permission. Police said Martinez had not received that permission and his probation officer was not aware he had left the area.
Investigators said Martinez’s driver’s license was suspended in 2020.
Moya, with Palm Bay Mayor Rob Medina standing by his side, said he was “grateful” that his officers were not injured. He received the call about the officer-involved shooting a short time after it happened.
“We put great value on what our officers do day-to-day,” Moya said. “To be awakened by a call like this brings me great distress,” he said, adding that he was glad to know that the officers were able to return to their families safely. “They’re grateful to be alive.”
An investigation is underway.
Both Florida Today and News 6 contributed to the reporting of this story.