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St. Petersburg police officers reprimanded in botched pursuit

ST. PETERSBURG — In March, an off-duty officer rammed a vehicle he thought was speeding away after opening fire on undercover narcotics detectives.

In actuality, the officer crashed his marked cruiser into an undercover police vehicle chasing the real suspects — a pursuit those undercover officers shouldn't have joined in the first place.

Four officers were disciplined by St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon and a chain-of-command board Thursday for their roles in that botched pursuit. But the board also ruled that two undercover detectives who fired their weapons during the undercover drug buy were justified in their actions.

The actions of a third officer who fired as he was being dragged by a vehicle in an unrelated incident that month were also deemed justified.

The department did not identify any of the undercover officers involved in these incidents.

The March 3 drug buy took place at the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot at 3501 34th St. S. Police said Antwan Marquis Britt, 21, robbed the undercover detective at gunpoint.

Sensing they were about to be shot, the detective and his partner opened fire. They missed the suspects, who sped off in a blue Suzuki Forenza. Undercover detectives backing up the bust chased the suspects in their blue undercover sport utility vehicle because no marked cruisers were available to help.

They got permission from their sergeant to ram the suspects off the road. Officer Stephen Mathews was off-duty when he heard the order on the radio and joined the pursuit in his marked cruiser. But he thought the suspects were in a blue SUV.

He spotted the undercover SUV on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, rammed and overturned it. All three officers suffered minor injuries. The suspects later were arrested by other officers.

Mathews and the sergeant who authorized the ramming received written reprimands. Department policy authorizes ramming a suspect vehicle only if the use of deadly force is authorized. The two undercover detectives in the overturned SUV received temporary written warnings. The department doesn't allow them to join a pursuit in an unmarked vehicle without lights or a siren.

St. Petersburg police officers reprimanded in botched pursuit 05/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 2:02am]
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