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, a Bedford County Sheriff's officer said.
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 him and his family "beyond description."
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.
Nuckols said in a phone 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.
Authorities later 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.
He said the sheriff's office conducted a successful search on the correct home Friday, finding child pornography and securing a statement from a man saying he knowingly distributed it.
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 previous search warrant executions.