Police chief: Officer improving after "pretty scary'' shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — The police officer who was shot after a convenience store robbery Monday night is improving, Police Chief Chuck Harmon said at an afternoon press conference.

The unidentified police officer was shot multiple times and a couple of the bullets were near vital organs, so "it was pretty scary," Harmon said. The detective is married with five children.

The police chief released few new details in Monday's shooting, but said nothing indicated to him that the undercover detectives did anything wrong.

Meanwhile, the 18-year-old accused in the shooting, James Allen Seay, appeared by video conference for a court hearing this afternoon to hear the charges against him: attempted murder of a police officer and armed robbery. A judge agreed to appoint a public defender for Seay, who is being held in the Pinellas County Jail without bail. Seay limped to the microphone, apparently the result of bites from a police dog Monday night.

The injuries and allegations were the aftermath of yet another convenience store robbery in St. Petersburg.

Already struggling to run a failing business, gas station manager Saiful Chaudhury felt defeated after being robbed at gunpoint Monday night — the second time in three months.

This time, he feared for his life as he watched two men with bandanas over their faces approach the front door of the Suncoast/Exxon convenience store. One raised a gun and demanded money before he could even get through the door. The men entered as the two employees and a customer cowered near the counter. The two robbers took the register's cash -- $139 -- and then ran out.

St. Petersburg police detectives, who watched the robbery take place, confronted the teens and ordered them to stop. One teen raised his gun and fired several shots at the officers, one of whom was shot four times.

Police this morning identified the three teens now facing charges of trying to kill that officer.

Arrested early this morning on charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and armed robbery are: Seay of 5313 21st Ave. S; Desmond John Creary, 17, of 4644 15th Ave. S; Shaheed Amad Wright, 16, of 4425 15th Ave. S.

Seay admitted to shooting the officer, according to a police report released this morning. Wright helped Seay rob the store while Creary stood outside as a lookout, according a police report.

'He's not a thug'

A relative said Seay's family is shocked by the allegations. Carla Seay, a cousin, said she was upset. "James has never gotten into any trouble,'' she said. "He's the type of boy that stays home and plays video games. He's not a thug.''

She said the family learned of his arrest on the radio this morning. When they heard the news, they went to Seay's room but he wasn't there.

Daryl Seay, James Seay's uncle who identified himself as associate pastor of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, said the family has a lot of questions about the incident and have not talked to police. They said they are also concerned about James' safety.

"We offer our condolences to the officer and hope for his speedy recovery,'' Daryl Seay said.

The family wonders if police could have stopped the robbery before it occurred.

"If a police officer seen all this before it happened it should have been prevented,'' said James Seay's older brother, Ferrell Davis, 22. "It's a sad situation; all this could have been prevented.''

Assistant Chief David DeKay said undercover officers rarely confront suspects unless a serious crime has occurred. They don't want to reveal themselves as police unnecessarily, he said. Police said until the men robbed the store, no crime was committed.

"When they jump out and do something, they're pretty much committed to it," DeKay said.

Davis said his brother is not a troublemaker, "he's a mama's boy,'' and that he was unaware if he had a gun. "If I would have caught James with a gun I would have wrung his neck,'' Davis said.

His brother was never violent and had been robbed twice in the past couple of months, so he was sticking even closer to home, Davis said.

He said his brother, the youngest of five, dropped out of Gibbs High at age 16 because of peer pressure, but has been attending the Life Skills Center, an charter school at Central Avenue that serves at-risk students, for the past several months. (Life Skills principal Phynedra Franklin said school records indicate Seay only attended the school briefly, in September 2005.)

"My mom, it's really crushed her,'' Davis said. "One of our brothers is already in prison doing 10 years for his lifestyle.'' The mother declined to talk to reporters.

Davis said the family tried to attend a 2 p.m. press conference at the St. Petersburg Police Department, but they were escorted away.

The family said Seay has never been arrested. Previous reports of an arrest for petty theft in Hillsborough County apparently involve a relative with the same name who lives in Tampa, they said. Records with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement do not show any arrests for Seay.

Wright was arrested by the Orlando Police Department in 2008 on a burglary charge, records show.

A veteran officer recovers

The 41-year-old wounded detective, whose identity is being withheld by St. Petersburg police because of his undercover assignment, belongs to the special investigations unit. He has been on the force for 19 years.

He and his partner saw the three teens on bicycles around First Avenue N and 31st Street about 10:20 p.m. Monday, according to a preliminary account of the shooting released this morning by police.

The detectives called for backup from their special-investigations colleagues. Two patrol cars and a canine officer were also dispatched.

Then, police say, the detectives watched the teens rob the Exxon station at 3061 First Ave. N. The suspects left their bikes in an alley and walked toward the gas station.

One aspect of the incident matched recent armed robberies that ended in gunfire: A suspect stayed outside as a lookout while the other two stormed inside and robbed the store.

Norman Taylor, 45, was in the store to buy cigarettes when two men barged in. One gunman was dressed in black with a mask on, Taylor said. He pointed the gun at the clerk and demanded money.

Taylor ran into a back room, where he waited about five minutes, he said. He didn't hear shots. When he came out, the place was swarming with police.

"It was pretty fast," Taylor said. "I have to really thank the officers for that (quick response)."

When the teens ran to get their bikes, they were confronted by the undercover detectives.

One of the detectives tried to arrest Creary, 17, in the alley behind Dunn & Dunn Attorneys at Law at 3021 Central Ave.

It was Seay who fired and hit the detective multiple times in the upper and lower body using a medium caliber semiautomatic, police said.

The detective returned fire, but none of the suspects were injured as they escaped.

The three suspects tried to run south between buildings on Central Avenue but didn't get far before other officers took them into custody.

Seay was bitten by a police dog, according to the agency, then treated and released at a local hospital for a minor injury. The weapon police say he used was found at the scene, along with a bandanna and ski mask.

Mayor Rick Baker spoke to reporters outside the hospital Monday night. "I would urge everybody to continue to hold the officer and his family in their prayers ... as he recovers,'' Baker said.

The official inquiries into the crime and the wounded detective discharging his firearm have just begun. The St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office will investigate both.

The special-investigations unit the officer is part of specializes in surveillance and stakeouts. Another detective with the unit was shot and wounded last May when a group of alleged drugstore robbers he was tracking suddenly robbed a Blockbuster.

The detective and a suspect exchanged gunfire, hitting each other. Police swarmed in to arrest five people, four of whom were teenagers.

The injured officer, an unidentified 19-year veteran who was recently decorated for his actions, also had to undergo emergency surgery after being hit twice.

The same detective was involved in a work-related shooting in 1994, Police Chief Chuck Harmon said today. He shot a man who pointed a toy gun at him, Harmon said. That man was not seriously injured.

It's unclear whether he was wearing body armor. Undercover officers have the option of wearing it, because it could give them away, Harmon said.

Harmon said police are still working to piece together a detailed chain of events. They haven't had a chance to interview all the officers involved, he said, but added that he doesn't see anything obviously wrong with any of their actions.

Staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

 

Police chief: Officer improving after "pretty scary'' shooting 01/27/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 11:35am]

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