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Brooksville police: Officers didn't single out black minister after robbery

BROOKSVILLE — An investigation by the Brooksville Police Department has concluded that its officers responding to the armed robbery of a pizza store did not single out for harassment a black man who was inside when they arrived.

Elijah Harris, an African-American Brooksville minister, said he entered the Little Caesars Pizza, 682 S Broad St., about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday just moments after two men had robbed the store.

Harris said two officers responding to the scene ordered him to the floor at gunpoint, while white customers inside the store were not ordered to do anything.

Police Chief George Turner said in a three-page memorandum that a review by a detective did not find any procedural violations by the officers, nor any instances of racial profiling.

Turner said the detective reviewed a 911 dispatch call and interviewed two employees of the store as well as the officers involved and their supervisors. The investigator did not interview Harris.

Based on that review, the chief concluded, "There is absolutely no evidence that the Officers acted in any manner that would single out Mr. Harris. On the contrary, all witness statements indicate that the Officers directed all within the store to follow lawful orders during a normal response for a robbery in progress. This was done in the interest of safety for all."

Turner did not respond to repeated calls Monday for comment.

Harris, 31, a pastor of Second Chance Restoration Ministries in Brooksville and an officer at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County, said he filed a complaint with the Police Department on Saturday. The department did not provide a copy of the complaint to the Times on Monday.

The review says that after the robbery, employee Cassie Le­Blanc, 19, ran out the back door and called 911 as she hid in the rear of the plaza.

When officers arrived and asked if the robbers were still inside, she said, "I don't know, I think so, you guys need to go!" She then saw the officers go to the store with guns drawn, yelling, "Get on the ground."

When asked whether the officers singled out any specific person, LeBlanc reportedly laughed and said no.

Police also interviewed cashier Otis Hamilton, 18, who denied telling the Times last week that Harris was the only person police ordered to the ground.

He told the detective that when the two officers entered with guns drawn and said, "Get on the ground, don't move!" Harris went to the floor and another customer raised her hands. Hamilton shouted that the robbers had run off. Police later arrested two men in connection with the armed robbery.

Harris disputed several points in a Hernando Today story Friday, including a statement by Hamilton that Harris reached for his wallet when he was ordered to get down on the floor.

"Had I tried to pull my wallet out, I would have been shot," Harris said. Hernando Today did not interview Harris for its story.

Turner said an employee at the Little Caesars Tampa office said the store's surveillance cameras do not record the store's lobby, where the incident occurred.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Brooksville police: Officers didn't single out black minister after robbery 11/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 12:21pm]
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