TAMPA — A man who was almost robbed at gunpoint, allegedly by the son of a Tampa police officer, said the quiet young man didn't seem interested in the crime he was committing.
"It seems like he was almost being put up to it by someone else," said Chris Gurrie, a 31-year-old University of Tampa professor.
Paul Nicholas McDonald, the 18-year-old son of gang squad Officer Audrey Peterson, was charged with two counts of armed attempted robbery after police say he tried to rob Gurrie and a friend in the Grand Central parking garage near Channelside after midnight Feb. 20.
The men refused to hand over any money, and McDonald ran away, police said.
McDonald, a student at East Bay High School, was arrested after a teacher caught him showing another student an online police bulletin containing a description and surveillance photo of the robber. According to an arrest affidavit, the friend asked McDonald why McDonald "was featured in the photo."
He was released from the Hillsborough County Jail on $15,000 bail.
Gurrie, a UT public speaking professor, recalled the night in a telephone interview last week before McDonald was identified.
Gurrie said he and James Goodman were so unfazed by the incident that they reported it to the police non-emergency line.
They were walking to their car from a nearby birthday party when they heard a soft-spoken person mumbling something from behind. "He was half-hearted," Gurrie said of the young man. "He didn't seem into it."
Although he was brandishing a gun, Gurrie said the young man didn't seem to care if they complied.
When the young man told Gurrie, "Give me your wallet or I'm gonna shoot you," Gurrie said he wasn't afraid to refuse. "This was kind of a joke to me at this point."
The would-be robber turned and ran to a waiting car, Gurrie said.
It might have been a teenage prank, Gurrie said, but "when you play a prank you're excited to play a prank. This was like a 'No, I really shouldn't be doing this' kind of thing."
Police said McDonald's gun was wrapped in a red bandana, which initially intimated the crime might be gang-related.
Gang members typically use colored bandanas to "fly their flag," but the gang squad said the bandana alone isn't enough to suggest gang activity, said Laura McElroy, a police spokeswoman.
McElroy said robbery suspects often wrap their guns with cloth to conceal fingerprints, though it usually doesn't work.
Gurrie and Goodman kept walking to their truck on an upper floor of the garage, where they called the police non-emergency line.
Police compared McDonald to the image of the person on the garage surveillance video. His mother saw the video, too, and immediately identified her son, police said.
McElroy said McDonald's mother joined the gang unit Jan. 24 and is still in training.
McDonald has no criminal record, did not have any gang tattoos and did not have gang markings on his textbooks, McElroy said.
"We haven't said, 'Oh no, this is absolutely not gang-related,' but right now we don't have any strong indicators," McElroy said. "We do have kids who try to imitate thugs."