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Questions linger in fatal shooting of teen by police

ST. PETERSBURG

At 17, Javon Dawson seemed to be beating the odds.

He had two working parents at home, was doing well in school, had never been arrested, and often took care of his siblings.

His life did not match the stereotype of a young, black, inner-city youth.

But his death did: gunned down in the street after allegedly pointing a gun at a police officer.

The Gibbs High School sophomore was killed outside a graduation party that got out of hand Saturday night.

Questions remain about the details of Dawson's short life and even more about his death.

Police did not release new details of the shooting Tuesday, including autopsy results that might determine exactly how he died and whether he fired a gun found at the scene. Police also have not said whether his fingerprints were found on the gun, which police say he had fired into the air.

They also say he was trying to run away as he pointed the gun at officer Terrence Nemeth, who fired twice, hitting Dawson once in the back right shoulder and once in the lower back.

Police say no eyewitnesses have stepped forward. It's unclear if they have questioned Dawson's 14-year-old brother, Keon, who told the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday that he was with Dawson when he was shot, and insists his brother did not point a gun at police.

When asked if he had a gun, Keon said his brother did not point a gun at police. "He's a black boy with dreads, a gold in his mouth, add it up," he said. "They shot him. Now they've got to have something to cover it up."

Dawson's parents said they are not convinced he was armed. How, they ask, could he point a gun at a police officer and be running away at the same time?

On Tuesday, Dawson's family painted a picture of a happy teenager who liked joking with his twin sister, downloading music and eating boneless barbecue spare ribs and pork fried rice.

"I never even heard him curse," said Yolanda Baker, his mother. "I know people used to say he did, but I never heard him."

Dawson's stepfather, Eddie Joyner, said Dawson was respectful and "wasn't hardheaded."

"He never talked about no violence or guns around here," said Joyner, 42, a floor tech for Goodwill Industries.

His parents said their son had the same issues as other teenage boys. He sometimes talked to his mother about girl problems. His grades slipped sometimes. He didn't quite know what he wanted to be when he grew up.

His MySpace page included photos of him with his friends and family, and the usual banter between friends. He also had posted a video of a shadowy figure reciting the lyrics of a Lil' Wayne song, making hand gestures and ending by brandishing what appears to be a gun.

Dawson's parents said they aren't sure Dawson is the one in the video, or who made it. But it also didn't concern them, since a lot of teenagers — black and white, inner-city and suburban — often mimic a glamorized thug life.

But his friends and family say he was no thug.

"We would talk to him about college," said Baker, whose eldest son, Davontae, is a student at Bethune-Cookman University. "But he never really said what he wanted to do."

After Dawson was born with his twin sister, Jameshha, Baker moved the family to Bradenton. When Dawson was 8, they returned to St. Petersburg where they had an extended family, including aunts, uncles, a great-grandmother, a grandmother. He liked being around family, his mom said.

He was held back a year in school because his twin sister failed kindergarten and a teacher thought it was best if they stayed in the same grade. Dawson was born 16 minutes after his sister.

At 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, Dawson tried out for the football team at Dixie M. Hollins High School before transferring to Gibbs last year. He often played Madden NFL on his XBox 360 and even mentioned playing for the NFL someday.

At Gibbs and in his neighborhood, Dawson was known as a joker. He was no stranger to the dangers of the street or police presence.

"The police would come through our block and scope, ride through, but most people will run, but he would stay because he ain't got nothing to run from," said Mikasha Whitehead, 15, Dawson's best friend. "I never seen him sell dope or anything."

Carolyn Pendergrass, Dawson's sophomore English teacher, said she rarely had to discipline the youngster, except for a few trips to the learning lab for listening to his iPod.

Still, she got a glimpse of some of his struggles.

"He wasn't focused," Pendergrass said. "I didn't see him as a mean-spirited person, but like many students nowadays they don't have that drive they need to have."

Pendergrass said she was in disbelief when she heard of the shooting. She recalled the last conversation she had with Dawson. It was on the last day of school, and it left her hopeful.

"I asked him what he wanted to be one day," Pendergrass said.

At first she got no response.

"I asked him again, 'In five to 10 years, what do you see yourself doing?' " she said.

Finally Dawson said he'd like to have his own computer business. Pendergrass said she'd help him make a plan to accomplish that goal next school year.

"I told him I wanted him to take care of himself over the summer," Pendergrass recalled. "He said, 'Okay, I will.' "

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727)893-8828.

Questions linger in fatal shooting of teen by police 06/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:42pm]
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