Undercover deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office were involved in a shooting Tuesday evening that they said was the result of an undercover drug deal gone wrong.

  • Hillsborough deputies were involved in Ruskin shooting
  • Authorities say it was an undercover drug deal gone wrong
  • 2 men are hospitalized; no deputies injured

During a news conference, Sheriff's Office Col. Donna Lusczynski said two men, Efren Esparza-Lopez and Luis F. Gutierrez, fired the first shots, and that six deputies responded.  

The incident left both of Esparza-Lopez, 19, and Gutierrez, 20, hospitalized. None of the deputies involved were injured, though officials said dozens of shots were fired in their direction.

"What's most important to us is that our deputies are safe and that they're going home tonight," Lusczynski said.

The shooting incident began when an undercover deputy attempted to buy 2 ounces of cocaine from the pair, the Sheriff's Office said. 

According to investigators, one of the men pulled a weapon on the deputy, who was wearing a wire, and attempted to rob him. Nearby officers responded by flashing their lights.

"It's not uncommon for drug dealers to rob each other," Lusczynski said.

The operation was carried out in a populated area of Ruskin, near several restaurants. Witnesses said the amount of gunfire exchanged was surreal.

"We heard what sounded like gunfire," Steven Downie said, "such a large amount that it sounded like firecrackers."

Downie, who owns a music store near where the shooting took place, was extremely concerned by the location of the sting operation.

"Although we appreciate that the police officers need to be safe, by the same token, they also have a commitment to protect the public," Downie said. "With that amount of gunfire that close, it was almost miraculous that no person was hit outside of the police officers who would have been in the line of fire."

According to Lusczynski, the seemingly inappropriate site is typical of such transactions.

"We often do it at their request of where they want to do the deal," Lusczynski said.

Esparza-Lopez was hospitalized briefly before being charged with attempted murder of a law encforcement officer, armed robbery with a firearm, sale of cocaine and several other offenses. Gutierrez remains in critical condition, and charges are pending.

The names of the deputies involved will not be released due to the nature of their work.