Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

With $20,000 in bank, Tampa police shooting suspect's cousin seeks public defender

TAMPA — There's broke. And then there's Alaina Riggins' version of broke.

The woman police say may have helped Dontae Morris while he was a fugitive from charges that he killed two Tampa police officers last year appeared in federal court Thursday on a weapons charge.

Riggins fired her private attorney, Jorge Chalela. Then she asked a judge to appoint the public defender to represent her because she couldn't afford to hire her own attorney.

Riggins, 26, said she had no job, no income, lived with her mom and couldn't afford to pay anything for household expenses.

The judge asked if she had any money in the bank. Riggins' answer: $20,000.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Lazzara looked at her in astonishment. Few indigent defendants claim to have even a couple of hundred dollars. "In your name?" Lazzara asked.

"Yes," Riggins said.

Lazzara told her, "I'm not about to appoint counsel at taxpayer expense when you have $20,000 in the bank."

Riggins complained that lawyers had told her it would cost $50,000 to handle her case.

Lazzara wasn't buying it. He told her to come back to court Aug. 25. "And I want you here with an attorney," the judge said.

Just how Riggins came to possess $20,000 without a job or income is unclear. She offered no explanation to the judge, and Riggins refused to speak to a reporter after the hearing.

Prosecutor Thomas Palermo told the court that Riggins was a "low-level drug dealer."

Riggins of Dover also rejected a proposed plea agreement that probably would have brought her a sentence of 30 to 46 months in prison. As a result, prosecutors may file additional charges that, if she is convicted, will lead to a minimum of five years in prison.

Riggins is the daughter of Morris' aunt, Carolyn Riggins. The elder Riggins was fired from her civilian job with the Tampa police last year. She was accused of hindering the search for Morris by feeding information to him through her daughter. Morris is accused of shooting Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010.

Police said Carolyn Riggins also failed to tell them about her daughter's close relationship with Morris.

Alaina Riggins was arrested earlier this year in a traffic stop when police found a handgun under her thigh, and $245 in her pocket. Police also found cocaine and marijuana.

Police filed 81 charges against her, including one felony for each of the more than 70 rounds of ammunition she possessed, but prosecutors dismissed most of them.

The remaining federal charge is being a felon in possession of a firearm.

It wasn't clear if Riggins left court the same way she was dropped off: in a Mercedes.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.

With $20,000 in bank, Tampa police shooting suspect's cousin seeks public defender 08/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 11:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.