Tampa officers slain

Judge releases driver linked to shooting of police officers

TAMPA — Saying he thinks Cortnee Brantley will "pay dearly" someday for the bad choices she made after the deaths of two police officers, a judge Thursday decided that day had not yet arrived.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun set Brantley's bail at $25,000.

She is expected to be set free today, a week after her arrest on a federal charge that carries up to three years in prison. Police say Brantley, 22, drove away after a fatal traffic stop June 29 and concealed the fact that Dontae Morris, the shooting suspect, was a felon in possession of a gun.

Under the terms of her release, she will wear an ankle bracelet that tracks her movements 24 hours a day. She will be under house arrest and the supervision of her mother and grandmother, both of whom put up the equity of their homes as bond.

"I hope you realize you are on a very, very short leash,'' McCoun said.

Federal prosecutors wanted Brantley jailed until her trial on the misprision of felony charge. They said she was a flight risk, that she had disappeared before.

• • •

After the shots, Brantley screamed.

"She yelled out Morris' name or some reference to him, and then sped away," testified Timothy Pope, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent.

Morris, 24, ran on foot, police say. Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, both shot in the head, were left to die.

They had conducted the traffic stop about 2:15 a.m. A flurry of calls between Brantley and Morris' cell phones followed.

At 2:19 a.m., a call from her phone to his.

At 2:22 a.m. and again at 2:27 a.m., calls from his phone to hers, according to phone records cited by Pope.

The special agent said no calls were made that day from Brantley's phone to emergency workers or law enforcement.

Janiesha Carmouche, 24, remembers Brantley arriving in the early morning hours that day at her Bristol Bay apartment off S 50th Street, about a mile from the shooting scene.

Brantley had dropped off Carmouche there at 2 a.m., then left again in her new Toyota Camry. She said she would be right back, but didn't say where she was going, Carmouche told a St. Petersburg Times reporter.

Brantley returned about 15 minutes later, Carmouche said. She seemed tired and didn't say much. She went to sleep on the floor of Carmouche's children's room. Hours later, she woke Carmouche up.

"Look outside," Brantley said.

Beyond the window, Carmouche saw helicopters, SWAT team members and snipers.

"You have kids," she told Carmouche. "They're going to come in here. Go outside, and tell them I'm here."

"Why?" Carmouche asked.

Brantley wouldn't say.

Carmouche said she opened the front door to Apartment 202 and told a throng of officers that Brantley was inside.

The officers stormed the place and took Brantley into custody. They interrogated both Brantley and Carmouche at Tampa police headquarters.

Afterward, they drove Carmouche back to her apartment, which was still being searched.

Brantley, released by police after seven hours of questioning, returned to Bristol Bay about midnight June 29.

Brantley and Carmouche walked around the parking lot for several minutes, talking. Carmouche said they didn't discuss whether Morris had shot the officers.

"I don't believe he did," Carmouche said. "I just don't. I just don't think it was him."

With news reporters repeatedly banging on her door, Carmouche said she sent her children elsewhere and spent the next two nights at a downstairs neighbor's unit.

On July 1, with Morris still on the loose, officers returned to Apartment 202. Carmouche said they told her they knew Morris had slept there the night before but they received the tip too late.

She told them Morris, who had essentially lived at her place since May and helped babysit her kids when she worked nights at McDonald's, had a key.

It took police four days to find Morris and charge him with the killings. Then they arrested Brantley.

• • •

On Thursday, McCoun asked Brantley's attorney to characterize her relationship with Morris.

"Stupid," defense attorney Grady Irvin said.

Irvin said he had been told that the two dated. Brantley, a full-time student at Hillsborough Community College, where she is studying psychology, had visited Morris in prison before his release in April.

Her mother, Mischell Washington, said Brantley slept in her home every night until two or three weeks ago when she bought a car. Then something changed.

"She's the sweetest person I know, and people are able to take advantage of her," Washington said.

Brantley's mother and attorney have said she fled from the shooting in fear.

But authorities said Brantley's phone calls with Morris and her refusal to name him as her passenger demonstrated her true frame of mind. Even after detectives showed her the police car video that captured the shooting, they said Brantley would not identify Morris.

Irvin's vow to reporters this week that his client would now cooperate did not pan out, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston said.

"To date, she has not given the name of the person who stepped out of her car and shot two police officers," he said.

Irvin said his client's cooperation depended on prosecutors.

"They were supposed to give us an immunity statement, which they have not given," Irvin said.

Brantley has not been charged in state court, though police Chief Jane Castor has said she was among those who could be charged if there was evidence they helped Morris evade capture.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office would not comment Thursday on whether Brantley had been offered immunity.

Washington said her daughter is serious about cooperating.

"I just think it took some time to sink in that that's what you're supposed to do," she said.

McCoun said Brantley's actions showed she was "at a minimum terribly immature" and gave him reason to doubt her character.

But because there was no evidence that Brantley was involved in the actual shooting, the judge chose to give her a chance.

McCoun ordered Brantley not to contact Morris directly or indirectly. He warned that her mother and grandmother could lose their houses if she failed to show up for court and that she would lose her freedom if she didn't comply with the conditions of her release.

Her mother promised that wouldn't be an issue.

"Trust me," Washington said. "We'll sit on top of her.''

Staff writers Jessica Vander Velde and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com.

Judge releases driver linked to shooting of police officers 07/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 12:38am]

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