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Suspected cop-killer turns himself in, police say

TAMPA — The largest manhunt in city history ended peacefully Friday night when the man suspected of fatally shooting two Tampa police officers surrendered.

Dontae Rashawn Morris, 24, turned himself in about 10:15 p.m. to face charges that he killed police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab early Tuesday.

"I can't tell you how relieved the men and women of the Tampa Police Department are," police Chief Jane Castor said at 11:05 p.m. "Thank God he's behind bars right now."

Morris, who is scheduled to have an initial court appearance at 7 a.m. Saturday, also was charged Friday night with a third murder, that of 21-year-old Derek Anderson. On May 18, Anderson was shot to death at an east Tampa apartment complex. Morris also is a "prime suspect" in a fourth fatal shooting, according to Sheriff David Gee, and is a person of interest in a fifth.

Curtis and Kocab, both 31, each were shot in the head after Curtis pulled over a Toyota Camry about 2:15 a.m. Tuesday. After discovering an active arrest warrant for Morris, Curtis called for backup and Kocab arrived.

Morris, who was a passenger in the car, somehow managed to kill both men and disappear into the darkness, police said. A dashboard video recorder in one of the officers' cruisers captured the murders, according to an arrest affidavit.

Morris then spent the next four days eluding hundreds of local, state and federal officers who offered a $100,000 reward, pursued nearly 400 tips and combed east Tampa for him.

Morris faces three counts of first-degree murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a gun. Ballistics tests by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that Morris used the same handgun to kill Curtis, Kocab and Anderson, police said.

Castor and Mayor Pam Iorio said they were especially happy that Morris was taken into custody before Saturday's funerals for Curtis and Kocab.

"I can never remember a point in my life when I felt more relief than upon hearing the news that Dontae Morris is under arrest," she said. "And to be able to provide Dave and Jeff the honorable tribute that they deserve tomorrow with him behind bars is even that much sweeter."

The surrender

Detectives began negotiations about Morris's surrender with an "associate" of his on Thursday night, police said.

Thirty hours later, Morris turned himself in at an undisclosed location, police said. The third party, whom police did not identify, accompanied Morris when he turned himself. That person is eligible for the reward and wishes to remain anonymous, authorities said.

Morris turned himself in at his attorney's office, Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Deputy Larry McKinnon said. McKinnon didn't have information about the attorney or the office location.

'This investigation is not over'

The driver of the Camry, 22-year-old Cortnee Nicole Brantley, also was arrested by sheriff's officials Friday night.

Brantley, who drove off after the shootings, was questioned for seven hours Tuesday and then released.

A decision was made Thursday to arrest her, authorities said.

The FBI got involved, and a federal arrest warrant was issued Friday.

Federal agents, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office and Tampa homicide detectives, concluded that a federal charge would be the most appropriate, police said.

Brantley is charged with misprision of a felony, which is witnessing a felon commit a crime and concealing it.

Brantley, who visited Morris in prison, knew he was a convicted felon but refused to report the crime, police said.

Brantley was arrested shortly after Morris, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. Police and sheriff's detectives went to Brandon to do a follow-up interview with some of Brantley's associates when they spotted the her. Brantley tried to run, McElroy said, but was caught and arrested by the Sheriff's Office.

Brantley may also face other charges, Castor said.

Morris' brother, Dwayne D. Callaway, was arrested early Saturday at an E Fowler Avenue motel after being under surveillance, Tampa police said. Callaway, 21 is facing two counts of domestic violence battery, and marijuana and cocaine possession charges. Additional charges are pending, police said.

Anyone who helped Morris hide could face charges, too.

"Without a doubt, this investigation is not over," Castor said. "I firmly believe someone was assisting him and harboring him. There's is no way, with the amount of pressure that we put on him, that someone wasn't helping him."

'My prayers are answered'

After a brief 11 p.m. news conference at Tampa police headquarters, Castor and Iorio embraced in relief.

"This is a very emotional evening for every police officer and every law enforcement officer in the bay area," Iorio said.

"Tonight, everyone in Tampa can sleep easier because Dontae Morris is off the street," the mayor said. "And every member of the Tampa Police Department can sleep a little easier too, and I thank God for them and the work that they do."

When it was announced that Morris was being charged in the shooting death of Derek Anderson, a cheer went up in the crowd gathered outside police headquarters.

Anderson, 21, was shot just before midnight while walking to his Kenneth Court apartment at 5715 Stevens Court. Police called it a failed robbery attempt. He died at a local hospital.

Anderson's aunt, Natasha Williams, was picking up her boyfriend from work at the St. Pete Times Forum when a niece called and told her Morris had turned himself in. She immediately sped to police headquarters because she wanted to see him.

"This means so much to my family," Williams said. "My sister's on her knees right now crying and praying. And words cannot express how good this feels."

The Morris family's pastor said he had been praying for Morris to turn himself in. He was at church when he heard the news.

"My prayers are answered," the Rev. John Anderson said.

The minister said he was particularly relieved that Morris turned himself in on the eve of the funerals.

"It's a blessing that he did what he did at the right time," he said. He said also spoke briefly with Morris' family after news of the arrest broke.

"They're very happy," he said.

'Cop killer!'

Brantley emerged from Tampa police headquarters just after 2 a.m., escorted by two police officers through a crowd of reporters and about 40 onlookers.

A stone-faced Morris appeared about five minutes later, dressed in a white jumpsuit and white booties.

"Cop killer!" bystander Charlene Grayson yelled at both Brantley and Morris as they were being led to patrol cars for the trip to the Orient Road Jail. To Morris, she yelled, "How's it feel to kill a cop?"

Morris paused briefly and turned in her direction.

"He looked dead in my eyes," she said.

Grayson, 36, of Tampa said she is trying to join the Tampa Police Department and came out to show her support for officers.

Nearby, Derek Anderson's sister, Antoinette Colbert, looked on.

"That's a man out for revenge for whatever happened to him, and he took it out on the wrong people," she said.

At the jail, the two Tampa police cars were met by a tactical team of detention deputies. Neither Brantley, who wore blue jeans and a black T-shirt that said "Loser Machine," nor Morris answered reporters' questions or said anything.

They were led to a property desk, where their personal items were catalogued. They were then taken to a medical station before being then fingerprinted and photographed.

Morris was sent to an isolation cell in Unit 5 — the same cell block that houses Humberto Delgado, who is awaiting trial in last year's shooting death of Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts. Morris will be kept on 23-hour lockdown, jail officials said.

Outside, Brantley's cousin, Trinity Hayes, came to make sure she got in jail safely. Hayes said she hasn't seen or talked to her cousin since the Tuesday incident and doesn't know Donte.

Brantley is "not a person like this. I wouldn't imagine her doing this," said Hayes, 23. "Things might have been easier if she had just pulled over after the shooting."

'Up to his eyeballs'

Morris is now charged with three homicides, is a suspect in a fourth and a person of interest in a fifth.

The charges cover the two officers and the shooting of Anderson. The fourth killing in which he is a suspect is the case of Harold Wright, who was shot last month. He also is a "person of interest" in an unspecified fifth homicide in Tampa.

Wright, 25, of Valrico, was found shot in the head, lying beside a road in the Palm River-Clair Mel area just after midnight June 8.

The motive appeared to be drug-related, Gee said, and Morris is "involved up to his eyeballs."

Wright's aunt, Claudette Michel, said Friday she saw her nephew the day before he was killed, and he was carrying three bags of marijuana.

"He was a nice person, but he was selling drugs," said Michel, 55. "His mama kept begging him to leave them alone, but he wouldn't."

Michel said she suspects her nephew's death was the result of a setup drug deal. Wright routinely carried around thousands of dollars.

Michel said she's heard more than one name floated in connection with her nephew's death, but rumors of Morris' connection became more plausible after she heard about the officers' deaths.

"It makes you wonder," she said.

Police discovered new information in some of the homicides during the search for Morris.

For example, in the fatal Tampa shooting where he is a person of interest, they didn't know he might be involved until they talked to someone this week who knows him, Castor said.

'Very moving'

For the four days leading up to Morris's arrest, the command center that was at the heart of the manhunt had been like a small city.

Generators purred day and night. Car engines idled. Assault rifle-toting officers reviewed databases, discussed strategy, explored new leads.

More than 200 city officers, county deputies, state investigators and federal agents from 15 agencies came and went. They needed water. They needed to be fed. They needed to sleep, shower and rest.

On Monday, the site was the parking lot of a company that auctions used cars. By dawn Tuesday, it was crowded with RV-like mobile command centers, police cruisers, unmarked cars and television news trucks.

Up went big military-style green tents and small canopies like at an outdoor art show. They provided cover for laptop computers, briefing areas and chow lines. Everything officials needed, down to cell phone chargers, had to be right there.

The first day, two men and a woman drove up with a few buckets of chicken and it continued: Cuban sandwiches. Pallets of bottled water. Meals from Outback Steakhouse, McDonald's, Moxie's Cafe Downtown, Moe's Southwest Grill. Bottles of Monster energy drink and Red Bull.

Police work without expecting a thank you, Castor said, so "to see this outpouring of support is very moving."

Inside the main command centers, 10 to 20 people from various agencies worked at any given time. There was little talk of rank and no sense of ego, Castor said. Many came in on their days off. The work was cathartic.

"The officers, they just need to have that closure," Castor said. "They want to be a part of bringing Dontae Morris to justice."

'Like prisoners'

Meanwhile, in the sprawling Kenneth Court apartment complex that Morris used to frequent, the police remained a constant presence through Friday.

"We all feel like prisoners, like we are being held hostage," said Sherell Mitchell, 24. Seven months pregnant, she was seething about the hours she spent Wednesday afternoon with her two young children, locked out by a police barricade. "They said, 'No one's getting in and no one's getting out.' "

Told of residents' complaints, McElroy said, "it's certainly not our intention to inconvenience or harass the people of this neighborhood."

'A cold-blooded killer'

Late Friday night, less than an hour after Morris' arrest, Castor returned to a comment she made earlier in the week.

"I stand by my definition of him as a cold-blooded killer," she said. "But I want everyone to know that he's an anomaly, and he doesn't represent our community, the goodness of our community."

Times staff writers Andy Boyle, Danny Valentine, Bill Varian, Kim Wilmath, Marlene Sokol, Katie Sanders, Kameel Stanley, photographer Willie J. Allen Jr. and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Suspected cop-killer turns himself in, police say 07/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 7:54pm]

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