Friday, April 20, 2018
News Roundup

Military equipment wrong response, says ex-chief who handled St. Petersburg disturbances

When Darrel Stephens got word that one of his officers had shot dead an unarmed black teenager, he knew he'd better hit the streets. He'd been police chief just three years, but he had quickly learned that St. Petersburg was anything but sleepy, that racial tension surged through sections of the city.

He bolted to the scene where a crowd, disenfranchised and enraged, was growing by the minute. As police took measurements and photographs, he walked among the residents, he recalls now, and was joined by City Council members and neighborhood leaders, all trying to keep the peace.

But the rage was growing. Someone hurled a bottle at police. Then came a rock.

Stephens called for crowd control equipment and protective gear for his officers. But he stayed put, pleading for peace.

"Just as we were towing away the car, somebody tossed a Molotov cocktail under a police car, or news van, and the news van was burned," he said. "It was beginning to work until the fire. That just set off the crowd surging and moving off in different directions."

That pivotal moment, from calm to chaos, set off a night of upheaval in St. Petersburg on Oct. 24 and 25, 1996, and then again the next month, when a grand jury decided the officer acted in self-defense. Two police officers were shot, two firefighters injured. Buildings were burned. Bystanders were attacked.

The unrest shares similarities with scenes playing out in Ferguson, Mo., where protests of a police shooting of an unarmed black man have continued for nearly two weeks.

But Stephens, 67, who is now executive director of Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, draws a distinction between the two events. Besides being short-lived bursts of violence and arson, the St. Petersburg incidents weren't well-formed protests, like those in Ferguson that continue to draw people from around the country.

"This was kind of a spontaneous thing that occurred at the scene of the shooting," he said. "They weren't out protesting."

Another difference is the use in Ferguson of military-style accessories and equipment like armored vehicles and sniper rifles, he said. St. Petersburg police officers continued routine patrols in shorts and typical uniforms, and they were fired upon sporadically by people in dark alleys and hiding places.

"You can look on TV and see that they have a lot better equipment than we had in St. Petersburg," said Stephens. But that equipment can be a double-edged sword, he said, because of the message it sends.

"That kind of equipment needs to be used in situations where there's gunfire," he said. "That equipment is used in most respects to rescue people under fire. But on a typical protest, there's no reason to have that out in front. Have it in reserve and available if you need it."

He hesitates to say how he'd handle the situation in Ferguson because he doesn't know all the nuances. But one lesson he learned here in 1996: "I know that until they're able to get to the point where the violence and conflicts resides, that's got to come to an end before you can work through the dialogue … to develop stronger relationships between the police and the community."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at (727)893-8650 or [email protected] Follow him @gangrey.

 
Comments
St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city said not one of the 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water released on Jan. 18 reached Tampa Bay.There was no mention of the waste released from the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility ever reaching the bay in the city’s notice...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

BRANDON – Devils top defenseman Sami Vatanen had not traveled to Tampa as of Friday afternoon, according to coach John Hynes, and his availability for Game 5 Saturday against the Lightning is in doubt.Hynes, however, did not rule out Vatan...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

TAMPA — Private developers would bear much of the cost of a new Rays stadium in Ybor City under a plan Hillsborough County officials are putting together.Developers would benefit by cashing in on commercial, retail and other construction around a ne...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Woman says Hernando County commissioner kept her as a ‘sex slave’

Woman says Hernando County commissioner kept her as a ‘sex slave’

SPRING HILL — A woman who answered the door Friday at the home of Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said she served for months as a “sex slave” to the elected official. Valerie Surette, who called herself a 30-year-old st...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Deputies: 19-month-old child found in New Port Richey pond has died

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 19-month-old child that was found in a pond on Thursday afternoon has died, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The incident took place at about 12:31 p.m. Deputies and firefighters were called out to a home in the 47...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Racing schedules for 2018-19 parimutuel seasons released

OLDSMAR — Eight is not enough at Tampa Bay Downs, at least when the thoroughbred racing facility on Race Track Road opens its 93rd season July 1.The final card of what will be the Downs' sixth annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing will featu...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rowdies prepared to press on without defender David Najem

Rowdies prepared to press on without defender David Najem

SAINT PETERSBURG — When describing the loss of defender David Najem, Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell and the player who will replace Najem chose the same word.Gutted.That settled over the Rowdies last weekend, one that was bad enough based o...
Updated: 3 hours ago