ORLANDO, Fla. — Mark Jerrell Shannon’s weapon of choice wasn’t a gun or knife.
It was those pearly whites that got the unruly Target customer in trouble.
“I didn’t mean to bite you,” an apologetic Shannon, 19, said after chomping down on Deputy Cameron Tucker’s arm outside of an Orange City, Fla., store, records show.
“I think I was just yelling,” Shannon added, “and it happened.”
“It” is happening to law enforcement officers more often, according to local authorities.
Law enforcers across the country face all sorts of dangers on the streets. Car crashes. Shootings. Knife attacks. Punches. Kicks.
But some of the most stomach-turning threats faced by officers come from filthy human mouths, infected blood and other contaminated fluids.
Just last month, Akil Asim Horsford sunk his teeth into Orlando police officer Brian Wood’s arm during a traffic stop that turned violent, police say.
Horsford tore a chunk out of Wood’s forearm after the ex-con’s handgun malfunctioned when he pointed the weapon at the officer and pulled the trigger, an arrest report says.
Reliable statistics do not exist for the number of officers bitten or infected with contaminated human fluids.
Those attacks are lumped into a broad category that the FBI labels as assaults, which include shootings, stabbings and other threats.
The FBI said 54,774 officers nationwide were assaulted while on the job in 2011. That’s up from the 53,469 officers attacked in 2010.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office considers bite attacks as “very real dangers, which can kill as surely as a weapon,” said Capt. Angelo Nieves.
In the most recent time frame available for data — October through June — deputies in Orange County had 64 exposures to blood or other body fluid, or both.
Of those, 24 were deemed a significant risk of exposure requiring testing, counseling and medication, according to Georgene Rye, assistant director of human resources for the sheriff’s office.
“The numbers of suspect bites and other blood and body fluid exposures are not declining,” Rye said. “Over time, the numbers have increased as suspects become more violent.”
The county finds the threat of deputies contracting life-threatening diseases so significant that it established a relationship with Florida Hospital to ensure deputies handle their exposure cases quickly and safely.
When deputies come into contact with blood, saliva or any other fluid deemed unsafe, they call a 24-hour hotline staffed by experts to determine the necessary testing, treatment and follow-up.
Two deputies in Orange County have died from exposure to infectious diseases while on the job.
One was exposed to an infectious virus so many times officials couldn’t pinpoint when he contracted the disease that killed him.
Deputy Mariano “Rocky” Lemus died May 6, 2005, after coming into contact with hepatitis C several times during his 14-year career with the sheriff’s office.
During routine blood work in 2004 Lemus was diagnosed with late stages of the disease, but a review of records showed he had been exposed multiple times, making the exact date of infection unclear.
Lemus was bitten by a suspect infected with the virus during a domestic violence call years before the 2004 discovery.
About six years after Lemus’ death, Deputy Sebastian Diana died March 12, 2011, after a long battle with an undisclosed infectious disease he contracted in 2006 while attempting to save a 3-month-old boy who wasn’t breathing.
Diana conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the baby and came into contact with the infant’s vomit. The boy died.
Officers learn about avoiding human bites and bodily fluids during training before they hit the streets.
They also learn various ways to handle an attacker, including verbal dialogue, personal-defense techniques, hand-to-hand combat moves and stun-gun training.
That training has helped keep Sgt. Chris Rego safe in two near-bites in Volusia County.
In both cases, attackers put Rego’s fingers in their mouths, but he pulled them out before they chomped down.
That happened a year ago when he helped subdue a Deltona man who bit another deputy, Calvin Swann, on his first day with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
Swann was investigating 911 calls from neighbors complaining about a man breaking into cars.
Swann recovered but still has a bite scar.
In June 2012, Volusia Deputy John Braman was splattered with blood when Kelsey Smith of Deltona smashed his face against Braman’s patrol car during a DUI arrest.
Braman wasn’t bitten but Smith started spitting blood.
“I felt something warm, but didn’t realize it was blood at first,” Braman said. “I became concerned when he started screaming that he had HIV, hepatitis C and everything else possible.”
Braman put a “spit guard” on Smith’s face, but he saturated the shield and continued spitting blood through it.
The officer said he worried Smith’s blood might make it into a small cut he had on his arm. Braman has been tested for various diseases and is confident that he was not infected by Smith.
Braman said officers should always think about the threat of bites because “sometimes the only way they can lash out is with their mouth.”