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After struggle, St. Petersburg police officer shoots, kills man

St. Petersburg police forensic officers investigate the scene of a fatal shooting early Monday near the Jungle Prada boat ramp. The family of Jared Speakman has questions about exactly what happened at the park.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

St. Petersburg police forensic officers investigate the scene of a fatal shooting early Monday near the Jungle Prada boat ramp. The family of Jared Speakman has questions about exactly what happened at the park.

ST. PETERSBURG

Three police officers respond to a waterfront park in the middle of the night and find two men they want to question about a suspicious vehicle.

But then Officer Ruben DeJesus spots the butt of a handgun sticking out of one man's pants.

DeJesus reaches for the weapon. They struggle. Ultimately, DeJesus pulls his own weapon and fires, killing 18-year-old Jared Speakman, police said.

Now, Speakman's family members want to know more. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office is conducting an investigation into the shooting early Monday and so is the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division. Both are standard procedure when an officer kills someone. A police criminal investigation the shooting is also under way, which is standard as well.

The conflict began about 1:40 a.m., when Officer Michael Weiskopf, 42, a seven-year veteran, found an empty vehicle parked near the Jungle Prada boat ramp at 1695 Park St. N.

Officers Richard Demesmin, 34, and DeJesus, 50, responded. The officers walked to the waterfront, where they found Speakman and an unidentified man. They appeared to be drinking.

The officers questioned them and began checking for weapons.

Speakman questioned officers' authority to detain them, police said. When Speakman, who was holding a small dog, turned to hand the animal to his friend, DeJesus, a 25-year veteran, saw the butt of a handgun sticking out of his waistband or his right front pants pocket, police said.

It is what happened next that has Speakman's family members asking a lot of questions.

"The whole thing really, really stinks," said Speakman's uncle, Mark Johnston, 36. "They screwed up. They did something wrong. … Hopefully, Internal Affairs will find that out."

Police say that upon seeing the gun, DeJesus yelled, warning the other officers. And he went for the gun. He and Speakman struggled, rolling down a grassy embankment.

At some point, DeJesus lost his grip on the gun but Speakman still had his hand on the .22-caliber pistol, police said.

"(The officer) was no longer able to control the actions of this guy," said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

DeJesus, a member of the Tactical Apprehension and Control Team, which is similar to a SWAT team, drew his handgun and fired several times. Speakman was hit in the upper body and leg, police said.

Puetz said there is no policy that would have prevented DeJesus from reaching for the gun. Puetz said "under certain circumstances that may be the only viable option."

Speakman's family members say they are outraged by the shooting. Patricia Bauer, his mother, said carrying a gun and resisting arrest would have been out of character.

Speakman has no adult arrests in Florida. Family members said he had some minor run-ins with police, and had encountered DeJesus previously.

Bauer said her son dropped out of Boca Ciega High School as a sophomore. She said she is disabled and that he stayed home and cared for her.

Family and friends were stunned. Mark Johnston, Speakman's uncle, said the family celebrated his 18th birthday just last week at Outback Steakhouse.

Speakman had talked excitedly about his plans to get his GED and take classes at St. Petersburg College, Johnston said.

He loved skateboarding, fishing, rapping, and performing with his band, Set the Sky Ablaze, the family said.

Monday's shooting came amid a tumultuous year for St. Petersburg police. A January shoot-out killed two officers. A month later, another officer was shot and killed. In response, last week the City Council approved spending $500,000 on equipment such as safety vests to better protect officers.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected]

After struggle, St. Petersburg police officer shoots, kills man 09/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2011 11:32pm]
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