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Crist asked to reassign inquiry in teen's case

The attorney representing the family of a teenager fatally shot by a police officer in early June is asking Gov. Charlie Crist to disqualify the State Attorney's Office from investigating the case.

St. Petersburg lawyer Maura Kiefer initially planned to make that request of a judge, citing a conflict of interest between State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office and the St. Petersburg Police Department, whose officers often testify for the office. A judge was set to hear her argument Thursday, but Kiefer instead decided to take the request to the governor, asking that he assign another state attorney's office to the case.

Javon Dawson, 17, was fatally shot June 7 outside a high school graduation party. Police say the teenager was firing a gun in the air and leveled it at Officer Terrence Nemeth, who then fatally shot the teen. Dawson's family and friends dispute that account.

The State Attorney's Office investigates all shootings by officers that result in death, said Bruce Bartlett, chief assistant to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. Bartlett added that Kiefer's request was somewhat premature.

"This is rather unique," Bartlett said. "We're at the investigative stage, there's no standing for her to raise this, there's not a pending case."

The office plans to continue its investigation despite Kiefer's request, he said. "We're moving forward talking to witnesses and continuing to gather evidence."

Kiefer did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

The governor's office had not received Kiefer's request by close of business Monday, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Crist.

"We'll be happy to review the letter once we receive it," Ivey said.

In the past, the governor has appointed a special prosecutor to cases, primarily when there may be a conflict of interest, Ivey said.

"We look forward to reviewing the information and determining whether it's appropriate to appoint a special prosecutor or for the issue to be resolved through the legal system," he said.

Finding witnesses to the shooting has proved especially difficult for state prosecutors. But in recent weeks, witnesses have begun to emerge and prosecutors are set to talk to more this week, Bartlett said.

"We've talked to additional people indicating they have some information," Bartlett said. "We'll have to put it all together."

Crist asked to reassign inquiry in teen's case 07/07/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 4:23pm]
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