Police and suspect's family recall night of police shooting and aftermath

ST. PETERSBURG — Officer David Crawford never saw it coming.

Responding to a prowler call Monday night, he stopped his cruiser next to a teen matching the suspect description.

He got out, grabbed a notebook out of his shirt pocket and asked Nicholas Lindsey to stop.

Instead, authorities say, the teen in the hoodie — who had bought a semiautomatic gun on the street last week for $140 — turned around and shot the veteran officer in the chest.

Then, authorities say, he fired three more shots and possibly a fourth. One bullet tore through the officer's notebook.

Crawford, 46, drew his gun and fired six shots. None hit Lindsey. The 25-year-police veteran lay bleeding from four wounds to the chest and belly and one to the arm.

Losing a black Nike flip-flop at the scene, Lindsey ran into the night, dumped the gun and was in bed at his home in the Citrus Grove Apartments by 11:15 p.m. — less than 45 minutes after the shots rang out, according to accounts from police and his family.

Not until the next night did his parents learn that their 16-year-old boy had become the target of the biggest manhunt in city history.

These new details were released Wednesday, along with funeral arrangements for Crawford, who died later that night after undergoing surgery at Bayfront Medical Center.

His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the First Baptist Church on Gandy Boulevard, the same church that hosted the funerals for Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz just four weeks ago.

Crawford was called a "Midnight Marauder" because he liked to work the night shift. He commuted 21/2 hours a day from his home in Crystal River, which he inherited from his parents, said neighbor Paul Allaire, 80. He loved baseball and worked security inside Tropicana Field during many Rays games.

As busy as he was, Crawford frequently asked Allaire if he needed help with anything. "He was a really good guy,'' he said.

The shooting deaths last month of Yaslowitz and Baitinger bothered Crawford a great deal, Allaire said.

Crawford's 24-year-old daughter, Amanda, was pressuring him to retire.

But he stayed on the beat.

Crawford wasn't wearing a bullet-resistant vest Monday night. Police said they were awaiting reports from the Medical Examiner's Office to determine whether it would have made a difference.

Mayor Bill Foster said Wednesday that he would consider revisiting a department policy that requires officers only to have vests, not necessarily wear them.

• • •

It seemed like a typical morning in Nick Lindsey's home Tuesday.

He woke up and asked his mom, Deneen Sweat, about breakfast. His brother, Anthony Sweat, warmed up bacon and corn beef hash in the microwave and went back to bed. As Deneen watched accounts of Crawford's death on Bay News 9, she saw some telling details — like the missing flip-flop.

"I knew something happened and I talked to him," she said during an interview Wednesday. "He did not tell me what happened. I knew something wasn't right."

Still, her son gave no indication he was responsible for the shooting. "There was no difference in him," she said.

Anthony Sweat said Lindsey, a student at Gibbs High School, didn't go to school that day.

Police descended on the apartment complex that morning, knocking on everyone's door, Anthony Sweat said.

"He wasn't trying to hide or nothing," he said. "He was here."

Later that day, with helicopters hovering overhead and more than 200 officers scouring the Campbell Park area, Nick Lindsey took his 4-year-old brother Domnic to a nearby park.

"Everything was normal," Anthony Sweat said.

• • •

By the time of Lindsey's visit to the park, the FBI had ponied up a $50,000 reward. Numerous nonprofits and other agencies had put up another $50,000.

Foster and police Chief Chuck Harmon held a news conference at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Calls started coming in.

"I think that was the catalyst," Maj. Michael Kovacsev said. "At 2:30, we began getting the first calls. Those calls pointed us in the right direction."

He said at least three tips led investigators to Lindsey. He said one came from a police informer, who is therefore ineligible for the reward money. One other tip may have come after Lindsey already had been identified as a suspect. He said police should know by next week if the remaining tipster is qualified to get the money.

"It's our intent to pay out every dime to those who are eligible," Harmon said.

The tips led investigators to Lindsey's home at 6 p.m. Tuesday, where they found the teen outside. The parents didn't know that police were coming for their son, Kovacsev said.

When Lindsey was taken to the Police Department for questioning, his mother joined him. The father, Nicholas, joined later. They were there for portions of the interview, Kovacsev said, and were cooperative.

"They were very instrumental in the interview process," Kovacsev said. "They encouraged him to do what was right."

Lindsey at first denied shooting the officer, but his stories shifted, police said.

Finally, about two hours into the interview, he broke down and admitted what he did, police said.

"He did break down and cry," Kovacsev said. "He was upset because he knew he took a life and he knew he'd spend the rest of his life in prison."

But Lindsey wouldn't tell investigators who sold him the gun. Or where he ditched it. He told police that he dropped it in a nearby creek and that officers would never find it. But Kovascev said Lindsey may have given it to a friend and didn't want to give that person up.

Divers were unable to find the gun.

"He was very adamant that no one would find a weapon," Kovascev said.

Police said Lindsey, who was arrested twice in 2009 on charges of grand theft auto, told them he was trying to steal a car that night.

Crawford responded to the area after a witness called 911.

Police could only speculate about what prompted Lindsey to open up on an officer carrying only a notebook.

"You never know what's going through a 16-year-old mind," Kovacsev said.

After the arrest, his family quickly offered condolences to Crawford's family. Anthony Sweat said he felt let down by his brother.

"He knows what the right and wrong things are," he said. "He wasn't brought up in a house where his mom wasn't there, his dad wasn't there, where nobody cares about you. He has people who care about him."

• • •

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said his office intends to prosecute Lindsey as an adult.

"We are currently in the process of scheduling a grand jury in the very near future," he said.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Lindsey would face life in prison without parole, as juveniles cannot be sentenced to death.

Lindsey will have an uphill battle, said defense attorney Brian Gonzalez.

It's hard to consider the shooting accidental when there were four or more shots fired at the officer, he said. But the defense likely will look at the details of the encounter — how far away the teen and the officer were, how much surprise was involved.

"If you're going to defend him in any way successfully, you need to have something to hang your hat on in the initial exchange," Gonzalez said.

Lindsey's father, Nicholas, stood with his son in juvenile court Wednesday morning during the boy's first appearance.

"On behalf of me, my son and our entire family, we send our deepest concerns and sympathy to the family and his colleagues that he works with," the father said as he broke into tears. "This is my only son, and I'm sorry that this happened."

Times staff writer David DeCamp, Emily Nipps and Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report.

Police and suspect's family recall night of police shooting and aftermath 02/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 11:43pm]

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