CLEARWATER — The State Attorney's Office won't pursue felony battery charges against the 36-year-old owner of a barbershop after an Aug. 29 altercation over the price of a haircut.
But Ray Stewart, who owns Trend Citi Fades at 1421 S Missouri Ave., Suite A, is still steaming over his Aug. 30 arrest on a felony battery charge.
Stewart had to pay $1,000 to get out of jail and a story that appeared on tampabay.com provoked dozens of comments.
The incident has hurt his business, said Stewart, who thinks that his 1995 and 2001 convictions for battery played a role in the arrest.
"My thing is, all this could have been avoided if they (police) simply would have spoken with my witnesses before placing me under arrest," Stewart said this week. "But they looked at my prior record and assumed the worst about me.
"I've been working hard to do the right thing and stay out of trouble. But this is a major setback for me. I did nothing wrong but now when you Google my name, the first thing that comes up is a story about me supposedly assaulting someone over a haircut."
Elizabeth Watts, Clearwater police spokeswoman, referred back to the police report but said an attempt was made to speak with Stewart before an arrest was made.
"The report speaks for itself," she said.
Robin Allweiss, the assistant state attorney who investigated the matter, said there was not enough evidence to support a conviction.
"There were witnesses for the defense who said quite the opposite (as to the victim)," Allweiss said. "How do we prove it? How do we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was actually a victim? From what I read in the police report and my discussions, I felt that we shouldn't file charges."
Police said Stewart attacked customer Quazi Saifur Rahman, 25, after Rahman tried to get a discounted price on a haircut for himself and a friend. But Stewart said things turned ugly when he asked Rahman to leave his shop.
Stewart said Rahman wanted him to cut his and a friend's hair for $20. He normally charges $15 a haircut.
"I kept telling him to leave and he just kept coming at me," Stewart said. "He grabbed my shirt. I grabbed his hands and pushed them back. His nose was hit and began to bleed."
Stewart thought the matter was over.
But Rahman left and called police. He told police he was pushed down a few steps and that Stewart put him in a headlock. Patrick Adderley, the friend who went to the barbershop with Rahman, confirmed that account. Rahman had a nosebleed and declined medical care.
Rahman could not be reached for comment for this story.
According to the police report, Officer Michael Claypool called Stewart the same day and notified him that criminal charges would be filed against him. Stewart, in turn, wanted charges filed against Rahman.
The next day, Stewart went to the Clearwater Police Department to file the charges but was arrested and taken to the Pinellas County Jail.
"I had no idea that was going to happen," Stewart said. "I kept telling them to talk to my witnesses."
Over the next few days, police talked to two witnesses who were at the barbershop at the time of the altercation and both confirmed Stewart's account.
Stewart filed a complaint against Claypool, but it was determined that his actions were "appropriate and reasonable," according to a Quality Service Inquiry.
But Stewart points to an incident two weeks before the altercation at his shop in which Claypool ticketed him for having illegal tint on his car windows. Stewart said four or five police officers arrived on the scene and he was told that they were training a new officer.
Stewart, who plans to sue, also points to the Police Department's Web site, which says "biased based profiling in the Clearwater Police Department is totally unacceptable."
"They are recycling me," Stewart said. "How do I become a part of a training exercise? I know I've done wrong in the past, but now I'm trying to do the right thing. I was on my property. That's something they could have checked. But they looked at my priors and came to a conclusion.
"I've worked to stay out of trouble and I just feel like I'm being targeted."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.