Clear55° FULL FORECASTClear55° FULL FORECAST
Make us your home page
Instagram
The investigation

Manhunt ends with a call

Police officers escort Dontae Morris for booking at the Orient Road Jail in Tampa early Saturday. 
 More photos from Morris’ booking are at tampabay.com.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Police officers escort Dontae Morris for booking at the Orient Road Jail in Tampa early Saturday. More photos from Morris’ booking are at tampabay.com.

TAMPA — The phone call Tampa police were desperate to hear came Thursday, in the midst of the largest manhunt in the city's history:

I can help you find Dontae Rashawn Morris.

Morris, 24, was accused of shooting dead two Tampa officers early Tuesday. Heavily armed teams of law enforcement hunted for him all over town. His face covered billboards. A $100,000 reward was offered for his capture. More than 400 tips poured in.

Still, Morris somehow eluded the small army chasing him.

Then came the call from someone claiming to be his associate, an informer, someone who had worked with police before.

Talks began, stopped, then began again. Finally, instead of overwhelming force leading to Morris' capture, long hours of negotiations led late Friday to his peaceful surrender at a South Tampa law office.

A city breathed a long sigh of relief.

"I had no doubt that we were going to find him," Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said after the arrest. "It was just a matter of time."

• • •

As thousands gathered Saturday morning for the funeral of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, the man accused of killing them shuffled before a judge.

Morris made his first court appearance, dressed in orange, wrists and ankles chained together, at 9:54 a.m. Assistant Public Defender Chuck Traina was at his side.

Morris faces three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the officers and the May shooting death of Derek Anderson.

Lawyer and prisoner spoke for a few minutes. Then Traina told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Paul Huey that his office could not represent Morris because of a conflict: It was also representing the woman who drove Morris the night of the shooting, Cortnee Nicole Brantley.

Huey set no bail for Morris.

"Obviously, Mr. Morris will remain incarcerated until he's tried," the judge said.

Four days earlier, in a rough stretch of 50th Street near Interstate 4, the nightmare began with a simple traffic stop.

Curtis pulled over a red 1994 Toyota Camry driven by Brantley, 22. Morris, who got out of prison in April, was the passenger.

But something went wrong when Curtis and Kocab tried to arrest Morris on a misdemeanor warrant. Somehow, police said, Morris shot both in the head.

Police said their deaths were captured on a police cruiser's dashboard camera.

A massive manhunt was launched, but after four days came to an end when Morris surrendered Friday night.

Brantley was also arrested that night on a federal charge of misprision of a felony. The charge suggests that she demonstrated some kind of concealment — a failure to tell the truth about what happened. That she was arrested the same night as Morris was coincidental, police said.

Also arrested was Morris' brother, Dwayne Daniel Callaway, 21, on charges of drug possession and two counts of violating probation. Police had him under surveillance and captured him early Saturday at an E Fowler Avenue motel.

All three were held without bail.

More arrests could be coming. Though little is known about Morris' time in hiding, Castor is confident he had help.

"This investigation is not over," Castor said. "There's no way, with the amount of pressure that we put on him, that someone wasn't helping him."

But police had help, too. It started with the call.

• • •

It came Thursday afternoon when an informer contacted detectives, police said.

Investigators had already acted on hundreds of tips, but this one seemed "very promising," Castor said.

But hot as it was at the start, the lead began losing steam.

"It just seemed to hit a dead end, you know? We weren't getting phone calls back," Castor said.

By the end of the day, Morris was on the FBI's most wanted list and his photo was all over town. Curtis and Kocab's names were etched into TPD's fallen officer memorial, and Castor reached out to hug their widows.

All the while, a detective tried to re-establish contact with the informer, Castor said.

Finally, a meeting was set for Friday night about 10 p.m. at an "undisclosed location."

When detectives arrived, they found Morris there, too.

It's not clear how the informant persuaded Morris to give himself up, but Castor said he surrendered without resistance.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said it happened at a lawyer's office, and jail records show that Morris surrendered at 3105 W Azeele St., which is the law offices of Fernandez, Larkin & Garcia in South Tampa.

Castor would not detail the relationship between the informer and Morris, except to say the two had been in contact during the manhunt.

"Their goal was to get him (Morris) to turn himself in," she said of the informer.

He or she does not face any charges, Castor said.

Castor said Morris invoked his right to remain silent immediately.

Still, Tampa can sleep easier with him off the street, she said.

• • •

But rage was what the crowd outside Tampa police headquarters felt at 10:30 p.m., after Morris and Brantley were under arrest. Anderson's relatives, outraged citizens, police supporters, all kinds of people waited for the prisoners to be led outside.

When a police cruiser arrived with someone inside, the crowd thought it was Morris. They surrounded the car and yelled at the man inside, backing off when they learned the prisoner was his brother, Callaway.

Brantley came out first at 1:45 a.m. Her T-shirt said "Loser Machine." The crowd surged.

"You're a cop killer," yelled Charlene Grayson, 36, "and I hope you fry."

Brantley pressed her lips tight as she walked between the makeshift rope lines holding back the crowd and the media. The piercing above her lip gleamed under the lights of the TV cameras.

"Why didn't you stop?" someone screamed.

The prisoner shook her head.

Then, at 2 a.m. a scrum of officers led Morris out.

He was shackled, dressed in white coveralls, blankly staring ahead. The crowd let him have it.

"Dead man walking, homie," screamed Johnnie Compton, 55, who said he's a police volunteer.

"Cop killer!" Grayson yelled.

Morris stopped and turned to look at her. The threats and insults grew louder. An officer pushed Morris into the back seat and the car sped off.

"He looked me dead in my eyes," Grayson said.

• • •

Before Morris and Brantley arrived at the Orient Road Jail near 2:15 a.m., the booking area was placed on lockdown.

That meant that other arrestees, who normally wait in an open area, were placed in holding cells.

Col. Jim Previtera said Brantley seemed devoid of emotion, but Morris looked nervous. The inmate uttered not a word for the rest of the night, with one exception, Previtera said.

As jail deputies instructed him to lay his head a certain way on a scanner that searches for hidden metal, Morris said. "Oh, okay."

When it was over, Morris marched slowly and silently under heavy guard to his cell in Unit 5. It's the same block that houses Humberto Delgado, who is awaiting trial in last year's shooting death of Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts.

Morris will remain alone 23 hours a day, Previtera said. He'll sleep on a mattress on a concrete bunk and use a steel toilet.

When he leaves for an hour of "recreation" a day, he'll walk down the hall with his hands and feet in chains, Previtera said.

Asked whether things would now return to normal for police, Castor replied:

"We're forever changed with these events," she said before the funeral. "We will get back to our day-to-day business, but we will never forget what happened in the last five days."

State Attorney's Office spokesman Mark Cox said it was too early to say whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Cox said the case would be under "careful review."

Times staff writers Jessica Vander Velde, Rebecca Catalanello, Andrew Meacham, Justin George, Robbyn Mitchell, Bill Varian, Michael Van Sickler and William R. Levesque, and photographer Chris Zuppa contributed to this report.

FAST FACTS

Chronology

April 4: Dontae Rashawn

Morris is released from the Mayo Correctional Institute in North Florida.

May 18: Derek Anderson, 21, is shot to death at Kenneth Court Apartments in east Tampa.

June 8: Harold Wright, 25, of Valrico, dies after being found with injuries to his upper body in the Palm River-Clair Mel neighborhood.

Tuesday: Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab are shot and killed at a traffic stop while trying to arrest Morris on a bad check warrant.

Thursday morning: Tampa police Chief Jane Castor announces Morris is a suspect in Anderson's murder and a "person of interest" in two other killings.

Thursday afternoon: Police are contacted by an informer who begins negotiations about turning in Morris.

Friday morning: Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee says Morris is a suspect in Wright's killing.

Friday, 10 p.m.: Police arrest Cortnee Brantley, on a federal charge of witnessing a felony and failing to report it.

Friday, 10:20 p.m.: Accompanied by the informer, Morris turns himself in to police.

Friday, 11:05 p.m. Police Chief Jane Castor says Morris is in custody, charged with the murders of Officers Curtis

and Kocab.

Friday, 11:40 p.m. Police say Morris also is being charged with the murder of Derek Anderson.

Saturday, 1:30 a.m. Police arrest Morris' brother, Dwayne Callaway, on a violation of probation charge after having him under surveillance.

Saturday, 10 a.m. Five thousand people attend funeral services for Curtis and Kocab.

Manhunt ends with a call 07/03/10 [Last modified: Sunday, July 4, 2010 4:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...