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In firing her, Tampa police say Dontae Morris' aunt thwarted manhunt

TAMPA — Two weeks after the biggest manhunt in city history for the man accused of killing two police officers, the Tampa Police Department on Tuesday fired the suspect's aunt, saying she worked against them from the inside.

An investigation found that Carolyn Riggins, 45, a civilian employee of the department, hindered the search by not revealing her daughter had a close friendship with the suspect, fed information to the daughter and withheld the whereabouts of people officers were looking for.

"As our department was reeling from the loss of two fine officers, it was another devastating blow to discover a valued Tampa Police Department employee worked against our efforts to catch the hardened criminal," police Chief Jane Castor said in a statement.

The 10-year employee will lose her pension because of the firing, said Laura McElroy, a police spokeswoman.

No one at the Riggins house answered the door to comment Tuesday afternoon.

Tampa police say Dontae Morris, 24, shot and killed Tampa Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during an early morning traffic stop on June 29. He has since been charged in two other murders.

The department is still investigating his movements between the shooting and July 2, when he was arrested at a law office.

Police were also searching at the time for his brother, Dwayne Callaway. They found him at a Tampa motel on July 2 with Riggins' daughter, Alaina Riggins. They were charged with drug and weapons violations.

When the department suspended Carolyn Riggins without pay last week, police said she had not divulged her daughter's "close-knit" relationship with Callaway or Morris.

Police said at the time they were investigating whether Alaina Riggins was in touch with Morris while he was on the run — and, if so, whether her mother knew about it.

In its disciplinary action Tuesday, police did not answer that question directly. But the inquiry found Carolyn Riggins hampered the search in part by giving information to her daughter.

"You also provided information to your daughter, who is associated with the suspect, which hindered the investigation," the disciplinary notice reads. "When interviewed, you provided inconsistent statements and made assertions contrary to the findings."

Although records released Tuesday do not give details, a memo shows Riggins gave inside information to "associates" of Morris.

"When Carolyn Riggins revealed our investigative techniques to third parties, she displayed a consciousness of guilt and knowledge of these investigative techniques, consistent with an ongoing pattern of withholding information; thwarting intelligence gathering that potentially would have expedited capture of the suspects, and prevented fear of further violence to police officers or citizens," reads a finding by Lt. Kenneth Morman of the Strategic Investigations Bureau.

His memo says Riggins "withheld information regarding the whereabouts of persons who were wanted for questioning and/or arrest."

Riggins did not come forward after the suspects were identified to offer information to find them, Morman's memo also said. No criminal charges were filed against her Tuesday.

Detective Rick Cochran, a 21-year-veteran of Tampa police and senior vice president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, said officers were shocked to hear about Riggins' connection to the search.

"I've known her for years and I wouldn't have expected that," he said.

In her job, Riggins interacted with officers regularly at the extra duty office, where businesses and community members go to hire off-duty officers as extra security.

She has years worth of praise in her performance reviews dating to when she was an office support specialist.

Cochran said he doesn't think this incident will strain relationships between the civilian employees and sworn officers.

"The civilians in our department are very valued and we count on them," the detective explained. "To have somebody to do anything remotely like that — that is bizarre."

In firing her, Tampa police say Dontae Morris' aunt thwarted manhunt 07/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 12:09am]
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