Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

Teen shot by St. Petersburg officer who was investigating report of stolen vehicles

ST. PETERSBURG — Just after sunrise Monday, Joann Grant heard gunshots.

"There were four of them," she said. "Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. They woke me up."

Grant, 51, went outside and saw a silver Ford F-150 smashed into a car several houses down. Its driver was not moving. Within moments, police officers swarmed the neighborhood.

"That's how I knew what happened," she said. "The police shot that boy."

On Monday night, that boy, Quade L. Everett, 17, of St. Petersburg, was in critical condition at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

It was the 10th time this year that a St. Petersburg police officer had shot someone, an unusually high number that has alarmed some community leaders and residents — especially considering officers in three of the shootings were found to have made mistakes. In one case, an officer was fired.

Seven of the police shootings this year have resulted in a death. There was one fatal police shooting in the city last year and two in 2011.

Authorities said Everett was trying to flee in the truck, stolen the night before, when rookie police Officer Brian Fernandez fired his gun. Fernandez told investigators the truck was coming toward him.

It will likely take weeks or months for authorities to reach conclusions about what happened. But scrutiny of the incident started almost immediately.

Monday's shooting was the third time this year that officers have shot at moving cars, which is generally against policy and, in one case, led to an officer's firing several months ago. And it comes just days after police Chief Chuck Harmon, who retires next month, tightened the agency's use-of-force policy.

"Shootings are serious matters to us," acting police Chief David DeKay said Monday evening. "We recognize the numbers are high. It's what's behind them that matters. … We review each one."

According to police spokesman Bill Proffitt, police received reports just after 7 a.m. that a Ford F-150 and a GMC Envoy were missing from a driveway on Tanglewood Drive NE. One of the vehicles had an Apple iPad inside. The owners tracked their tablet using GPS to an address near 20th Avenue S and 11th Street.

A bulletin went out over the radio. Fernandez responded first. When he arrived, he saw people removing belongings from several stolen cars parked in the front yard of a duplex at 2007 and 2011 11th St. S, police said.

"It looks like maybe there was a crew working last night," Proffitt said, "and this was where they all met."

Fernandez, who was sworn in this summer, approached and everyone scattered.

Everett was in the Ford, and was struck by at least one bullet. The teen, who has a history of juvenile arrests, had life-threatening injuries.

On Monday afternoon, several hours after the shooting, police said in a statement the truck was backed up in the front yard of the duplex, and that Everett drove it toward Fernandez.

The policy banning firing into moving vehicles spells out some exceptions, but they apply only if someone in the car is threatening officers with a gun. Police did not say if Everett had one.

Another department policy instructs officers not to put themselves in harm's way by stepping in front of a vehicle.

Police did not have any eyewitnesses, Proffitt said. Another officer was responding, but was coming around the corner when the shots were fired.

"He heard the shots but he didn't see," Proffitt said, adding that detectives are looking for people who ran from the house.

After Everett was shot, the Ford crashed into a white Nissan Rogue parked on the street in front of the duplex.

As the neighborhood began to wake Monday, residents gathered in groups behind the crime scene tape and tried to piece together what happened.

"Something ain't right," Grant said. "Did they have to shoot him?"

Just last week, Harmon tightened the agency's use of force policy and made it mandatory for officers to see who they are shooting at.

Harmon made the change after a shooting in September in which a suicidal man pointed a gun at officers and was shot and killed. Investigators determined some of the officers who shot at the man didn't have a clear view of him at the time.

Many of the shootings this year have involved people with mental illnesses getting into confrontations with officers.

Fernandez, 29, is a probationary officer, though he has been solo for a couple of months, Proffitt said. He was called "friendly and courteous" in his first and only evaluation. The only discipline in his record is a reprimand for being tardy or absent for training at the academy.

As is standard in all officer-involved shootings, Fernandez has been placed on administrative leave with pay during overlapping investigations by police and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

Records show Everett has a juvenile arrest record for burglary-related crimes, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Police said his record also includes charges of auto theft, fleeing police and aggravated assault on an officer.

In July 2012, he was part of a group of teens caught in a wild midday chase through the city. Police said the group had broken into some homes.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8643.

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