ST. PETERSBURG — Police say 18-year-old Jaqueal Edward Harris had some special help robbing a convenience store last year: mom and dad.
James and Evette Harris were arrested Thursday on charges of armed robbery, accused of driving their son and three of his friends so they could rob a store at gunpoint.
The parents even got a cut of the cash, police said.
But the parents deny everything. They told the St. Petersburg Times that police arrested them in retaliation because they won't implicate their son in the murder of a 15-year-old runaway.
Malayshia Gamble was found shot dead on Jan. 9. Jaqueal Harris has been questioned by detectives in her death. Police say the two had a relationship, and that he said he saw her the night of her murder.
Police have not publicly named a suspect. But James and Evette Harris said police suspect Jaqueal in the teen's death.
"They're trying to manipulate and harass everybody to get one person to say 'yes,' and it's wrong," the mother told a Times reporter Thursday night in a call from the county jail. "God's not with it."
St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt said the parents' belief that they were jailed to coerce them is just "not true."
He said the parents put themselves at the scene of the July 18 robbery, and that other witnesses came forward to implicate the parents as the getaway drivers.
"We've talked to a number of other sources who have implicated them as not only participating in the robbery," Proffitt said, "but also profiting from the money stolen in the robbery."
Harris has denied any involvement in Malayshia's death, police say. But is he a suspect?
"It's still an ongoing investigation," Proffitt said. "We're not going to put a label on him."
Jaqueal Harris was arrested this weekend on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, armed burglary with battery and bribery. Then on Thursday, police added two more charges of armed robbery. All three armed robberies occurred July 18.
That day's second robbery is the one the parents have been implicated in. Police said the parents drove Jaqueal Harris and three friends to rob Sunshine Foods of St. Petersburg at 2210 62nd Ave. S.
Jaqueal Harris' other charges are from unrelated crimes. The bribery charge, which police say occurred at the police station early Saturday, stems from Harris offering $17,000 to a sergeant to "interfere" with a homicide investigation in which he might be a suspect, police said.
Police would not comment on what Harris meant by that.
Harris, 18, has a felony criminal record that stretches back to age 13. He is being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $220,000 bail.
Both the father, James Edward Harris, 38, and the mother, Evette Clenice Harris, 33, are being held without bond because both violated probation from previous arrests.
But the mother said she hopes police still find Malayshia's killer "no matter who it is, because she didn't deserve to die.
"Even if it's my son. It doesn't matter," she said. "If he did this, he needs to pay the price for it."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.