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Dash cam video reveals dying Tampa police officers' final moments

TAMPA — The murder video was all the more stunning for its blasé brutality. It was void of anger, argument, any hint of coming violence. No one even cursed. The two police officers were killed as casually as swatted flies.

The officers asked a man to step out of a car. He did.

He stood inches from their faces.

One cop said, "Put your hands behind your back." He started to, then turned slightly to his right.

Flashes exploded from his hand. He shot twice, right at the officers' faces.

They fell together.

The gunman, who moments earlier identified himself as "Morris . . . Dontae. . . D-O-N-T-A-E. . . M-O-R-R-I-S," jumped over them, nearly tripping, and ran away.

Inside the car, the driver shouted "Qway! Qway!" — the passenger's nickname. Then she floored the gas. Tires screamed.

All of it — every word, every movement of the June 29 killings of Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab — was caught on Curtis' patrol car camera. The video was made public Friday and shown to local media.

For a couple of minutes, the officers lay motionless and silent in the grass. Other cars passed without stopping.

Curtis' car radio clicked on, finally — something about a brick thrown through a window.

Then, more quiet.

Morris' defense team fought to keep the video from the dashboard camera, along with other evidence, sealed until trial. They argued that releasing it early could hurt Morris' chances in court.

A judge ruled this week that the video could be shown as long as it did not leave the State Attorney's Office.

Reporters were allowed to bring only notebooks and pens to Friday's screening.

It was a video Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said no one should watch.

On Friday, she released a statement:

"The release of the dash cam video will bring back many emotions for Dave and Jeff's families, our officers and me. We respect the judge's decision and the media's access to Florida's public records; however, we see no public value in anyone viewing this video outside of a jury."

• • •

The recording opened with Curtis, 31, following a red 1994 Camry with no license tag on a deserted 50th Street, pulling the car over near 23rd Avenue.

Curtis walked slowly, calmly, to the driver's window, leaving rap music — the song Maybe by Rocko — playing inside his police cruiser.

"How you doing?" Curtis asked, leaning toward the window.

"Good, you?" the driver, Cortnee Brantley, answered.

They squabbled a few minutes over the missing tag.

"It's not registered in my name, but it is my car," said Brantley, then 22. Her tone was neither disrespectful nor particularly courteous.

"You do have to get a tag," Curtis said. "You didn't know you had to? Who told you that?"

Morris, the passenger, didn't speak until Curtis asked his name. Curtis wrote it down as Morris spelled it, then took Brantley's license and registration back to the cruiser.

Moments later, Curtis was joined by his friend and zone partner Kocab, 31, as he walked back to the Camry. They approached the passenger's side door together.

"What's the deal with your warrant? Do you know anything about it?" Curtis asked Morris.

The question was a lethal turning point.

It referred to an active warrant for Morris out of Jacksonville on a charge of writing a worthless check. The officers didn't tell Morris, then 24, what the warrant was for. They didn't have time to.

What the officers didn't know was that Morris had recently been questioned about a murder in Tampa.

It's anyone's guess what Morris thought he was being arrested for.

• • •

No mountain of affidavits and depositions, no thousands of pages of testimony that describe the murders, compare to the next two minutes of video.

Curtis told Morris to step out of the car.

Morris stood up, facing the officers.

"Put your hands behind your back," Curtis said.

Morris squirmed a bit, reached behind, and then it happened.

So fast.

Two explosions, not a second apart.

• • •

The video went silent.

The officers lay together in a heap, neither moving nor speaking. A timer at the bottom of the viewing screen showed seconds ticking away.

Finally, off camera, someone screamed.

"Oh my God! It's two of them! They're both down!"

Two women walked into view. One checked for a pulse.

"One's breathing, both of them are breathing! They're both breathing!" yelled Renee Roundtree.

Delores Keen dialed 911 and pleaded that responders hurry.

"You've got two officers down. They've been shot," Keen screamed into the phone. "Please!"

"Oh my God!"

Red and blue lights came from every direction. Officers rushed to the road shoulder, checked the officers' pulses, started CPR.

There were shouts from everywhere.

"Jeff, come on buddy. Jeff, come on."

"Hold on, baby."

Someone counted chest compressions. ". . . 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12."

"Hang in there, buddy."

More officers arrived. There was more pleading, more chest compressions.

"You're here. You're here. Hang in there. Come on."

The video stopped after 15 minutes and 25 seconds.

A frozen scene of chaos.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or 813-226-3337. John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or 813-226-3383.

The legal case

Dontae Morris, 25, is charged in five murders: the officers' deaths on June 29, 2010; Harold Wright's on June 8; Derek Anderson's on May 18; and Rodney Jones's on May 31. He remains in a Hillsborough County jail without bail awaiting trail.

Cortnee Brantley, 23, was accused of not telling authorities she knew Morris was a felon who illegally had a gun, leading to a seldom used federal charge. That charge was eventually dismissed.

Dash cam video reveals dying Tampa police officers' final moments 03/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 2:17pm]

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