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2 weeks after teen's shooting, no one's talking

ST. PETERSBURG — Two weeks later, nobody's talking.

Not the brother who says he witnessed the shooting. Not the activist group that vowed to produce witnesses. Not the lawyer who was going to send witnesses to prosecutors.

Now, as the teenager shot dead by police is about to be laid to rest, prosecutors are considering legal steps to see if they can get his 14-year-old brother to talk.

More than 250 people attended the graduation party that ended with the fatal shooting of Javon Dawson, yet no one has stepped forward, despite claims by an activist group that eyewitnesses dispute the police version of events.

"We have had no witnesses produced by the Uhurus nor have we had any contact with them," said Bruce Bartlett, chief assistant in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, referring to the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement.

"We'll make every reasonable effort to find, locate and interview these witnesses, but you reach a certain point when you begin to question whether these individuals really exist."

The Uhurus staged a demonstration outside police headquarters two days after the June 7 shooting at which they contended Dawson, 17, was unarmed and had his hands up when a police officer shot him. Dawson's mother, Yolanda Baker, attended the demonstration and said witnesses told her Dawson was unarmed.

"There were no statements that he had a gun, fired a gun or pointed a gun," Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela said during the June 9 demonstration. "The Police Department is the only one who's said anything about a gun."

He said his group would present its evidence within days. That didn't happen.

Last week, Yeshitela said witnesses would be funneled to prosecutors through St. Petersburg lawyer Maura Kiefer. That hasn't happened, either.

Bartlett said prosecutors have tried to contact the Uhurus and Kiefer but have gotten no response. Both also declined to comment to the St. Petersburg Times. Kiefer, who is also city attorney for Treasure Island, did not respond to written questions.

Nemeth said Dawson was carrying a handgun that he used to shoot several rounds into the air, refused to put his gun down and pointed it at the officer as he turned to run away. Nemeth fired twice, hitting Dawson once in the shoulder and once in the lower back.

Police released a photograph of a revolver found near Dawson's body with three spent shell casings.

Police have not released information on whether fingerprints were found on the gun or gunshot residue was found on Dawson's hands. Bob Dekle, a law professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said gunshot residue is not considered persuasive in criminal courts, compared with other evidence such as DNA.

Nemeth is on paid leave, a standard procedure during an investigation, and has declined to discuss the shooting.

Dawson's brother, Keon, told the St. Petersburg Times in a brief interview last week that his brother did not point a gun at police. Asked if his brother had a gun, he repeated that he did not point a gun at police.

Investigators have sent automated phone calls to every family at Gibbs High and Lakewood High; the party Dawson attended involved mostly students from those schools. They have also distributed fliers at city recreation centers and reached out to others active in the community.

"At this point, we are still at the same spot," said police Major Michael Puetz, who is overseeing the criminal investigation.

Puetz said police also are seeking information through other avenues, such as informants and connections on the street. He said new information about the shooting has emerged. He declined to elaborate.

A visitation for Dawson will be today, 4-8 p.m. at Zion Hill Mortuary, and Dawson's funeral will be 1 p.m. Saturday at All Nations Church of God By Faith.

Local church leaders are asking teenagers to talk to police if they have any information about the shooting. The Rev. Louis Murphy of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church said the lack of witnesses has raised concerns in the community.

"We have been telling everyone that if someone knows something they need to come forward," he said.

"At this point, the question is did anyone really see what happened. There is always a chance that people heard the gunfire and just ran and really didn't see what happened."

The Rev. Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church said he also has told teenagers to speak to police if they saw something, though he's not optimistic.

"It's hard to get people to come forward if they aren't ready," he said.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at or (727) 893-8472

2 weeks after teen's shooting, no one's talking 06/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2008 10:37pm]
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