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Foster returns to his regular schedule, explains his decision to demolish

ST. PETERSBURG — After two police officers were shot and killed on Monday, Mayor Bill Foster canceled all his meetings so he could try to restore calm to a shattered police department.

But he kept his regularly scheduled appointment today at Kay's Kitchen on Central Avenue, where he met with residents as part of his monthly Breakfast With the Mayor meet-and-greets.

"It's important that we return to normalcy," Foster said upon arriving for the 7 a.m. event and finding himself surrounded by five TV cameras and several reporters. "We need to continue to demonstrate that our police are still out there. Our city services are still being provided. In their honor, we will continue to provide a high level of service."

Foster spent more than two hours sitting individually with residents who showed up to talk to him about issues, such as zoning, the Tampa Bay Rays, a new west-central business association and health care.

The breakfast, like others, was lightly attended by residents, with no more than 20 getting a chance to speak with him. This time, though, reporters were out in full force, following him around as he sat down with each diner patron.

He shook the hand of Caesar Civitella, a former city parking attendant, and they talked briefly about light rail. He spoke briefly with Tom Meehan, a retired electrical contractor from Ohio. He talked with police Officers Rob Arrison and Scott King as they ate their breakfast.

"It helps that he's out there with us," King said. "You feel a lot more support because he's been with us during the last couple of days."

Foster reasserted that he alone made the decision to demolish the home of Christine Lacy after Hydra Lacy shot and killed Officers Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger. He said he ordered the demolition shortly after Lacy's body was removed from the house at 2:15 p.m.

"I'm not a contractor, but from what I saw, I knew that it was beyond repair," Foster said. "I called (Public Works Administrator Mike Connors) and said I wanted it removed by nightfall."

He said he didn't go inside the house to inspect the damage, but he did see the front and concluded that the home was destroyed. He said that because Lacy was dead, he knew there would be no criminal investigation. If Lacy had been alive, Foster said, he wouldn't have ordered the demolition until police had more time to process the evidence.

But he said he didn't want to risk the lives of officers if there was to be no criminal case. Even though evidence such as shell casings would be helpful in instructing the department what happened, Foster said it wasn't worth keeping the house standing.

"Had Lacy been arrested, the decision would have been different," Foster said. "The need to gather evidence for a criminal case is the difference. Since we're not, it's wasn't worth putting anyone in peril."

Foster said he didn't consult with the city's top building official, Rick Dunn, or the city's fire marshal in determining that the house was too unsafe to gather evidence of the shootout. He said he saw officers collecting evidence at the scene who had to navigate between more than 100 canisters of tear gas that had been used, and felt they were in harm's way.

"I have the legal authority to direct my city staff in a manner that isn't illegal," Foster said when asked what allowed him to order the demolition.

According to Assistant Deputy City Attorney Mark Winn, the city's strong-mayor form of government gives Foster broad powers.

"He's the chief administrator of the city," Winn said. "It's his job to do those things."

Foster repeated his intention to compensate the owner of the house on 28th Avenue S, Christine Lacy. He said he spoke with her Tuesday and that she has a lawyer. He wouldn't say who her lawyer was.

"She's going through her own grief," Foster said. "She feels sick about what happened. We're going to maker her whole."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Foster returns to his regular schedule, explains his decision to demolish 01/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 8:15am]
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