Brian Boswell was used to investigating tough cases for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, but he wasn’t prepared for what he saw on an August night in 1995. He was sent by a dispatcher to a domestic violence call. And while those are never easy, this one was particularly bad.
The victim, Tonnie Deas, had been dragged from her house by John Osborne, beaten with one of the security clubs drivers placed on their steering wheels, and left for dead near Thonotosassa.
“When I saw her she looked non-human. She looked like something out of a horror movie,” Boswell said. “I didn’t think she would make it.”
But she did. Thursday at the Tampa Convention Center, Deas, now living in Georgia, got to publicly say thank you to Boswell, who is still with the sheriff’s office and now a master detective. The occasion was the Our Heroes Luncheon, the 19th annual salute to all branches of local law enforcement and fire rescue.
The stories of the 17 honorees and eight high school students who won college scholarships were all compelling, but the story of Boswell and Deas stood out particularly. Boswell was honored as the First Responder of the Year in taking action against domestic violence.
Deas would have another name for him, though. “The man saved my life,” she said.
This award was created in 2011, and Boswell has been nominated for it every year since by The Spring, the refuge for battered women. It’s recognition of the life-changing work Boswell and others like him do with women trapped in seemingly hopeless situations.
Nothing could be more hopeless than what Deas faced. To say she was in an abusive relationship doesn’t come close to describing the horror.
“This guy had tried to bury her alive one time,” Boswell said. “He shot her in the leg once. She had moved into a house to get away from him, but Johnnie went there and did what we would call today a home invasion. He was a true psychopath. He literally dragged her out by the hair.”
On the way to jail after Boswell arrested him in a bar along U.S. 92, Osborne bragged that he wouldn’t be convicted because Deas would never testify against him in court. Turns out he was right. She said another man beat her.
“I don’t know why I did that,” she said.
The jury convicted him anyway of kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison and later died.
Deas had to battle her own demons, including some minor brushes with the law. But one day a few years after the case, Boswell received a note that Deas was trying to get in touch. She told him she had gotten straightened out. “In essence, this gave me closure,” he said. “I was able to see she had moved on with her life.”
Deas has her own advice for women who feel trapped.
“Run,” she said. “Get away. Call 9-1-1. Ask for help. Do something. Don’t be scared.
“I have a life now. I spend time with my daughter and grandkids. I work in the garden and the yard. I have a home now. It feels so good not to be hit all the time.”