ST. PETERSBURG — The largest manhunt in city history ended not with a man, but with a boy.
Hundreds of heavily-armed police officers flooded the streets after Officer David S. Crawford was shot and killed that Feb. 21 night. They searched by land and air, knocking on doors, scouring drainage ditches, chasing tips. Their work led to a lanky teenager, 16-year-old Nicholas Lemmon Lindsey.
When the police arrived at his Citrus Grove apartment, they say he agreed to go to the station to talk. A video of that conversation was released Monday, along with more than 300 pages of investigative documents in the case.
The video opens with Lindsey seated in an interrogation room, the day after Crawford was shot.
"I did not do it," Lindsey insists. "I'm telling you I did not do it."
The two adults in the room don't buy his story.
"Who did it?" demands the woman. "Just tell us what happened."
"Please talk to us," the older man pleads. "Please help make us understand."
The interrogators keep pressing.
But they are not detectives. They are his parents.
"We're begging you to tell us the truth," Nicholas Lindsey Sr. tells his son with the teen's mother, Deneen Sweat, at his side.
The video shows how instrumental Lindsey's parents were in obtaining what authorities have said was a voluntary confession from their son — even as other members of the community, and perhaps even within the teen's own family, appear to have hindered the investigation into the officer's slaying.
• • •
The shooting occurred shortly after 10:30 p.m., when Crawford and Officer Donald Ziglar investigated reports of a possible prowler east of Tropicana Field's parking lot.
"I have somebody walking on Second Avenue S. What was the clothing?" Crawford asked the police dispatcher.
The suspect is wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, jeans and white shoes, the dispatcher replied.
"Nah, not even close," Crawford said. "I'll recirculate."
Less than a minute later, someone shouts over the radio channel "shots fired," followed quickly by "officer down, send rescue!"
A 24-year-old homeless man walking on Eighth Street told police he saw the shooting. He was across the street.
He said Crawford got out of his patrol car and motioned to a slim, young man to come near.
The man and Crawford were only about 5 to 8 feet apart, when "the individual, like, took half a turn and, like, a step forward, and he just reached from his waistband. And there was about, I want to say, five, five shots," according to a transcript of his interview with prosecutors. The officer was shot several times in the upper body, police said. He was not wearing his protective vest.
The homeless man ran south, back to where he had seen another cop a few minutes before.
But Officer Ziglar, who heard the shots, had no idea who the man was. He pulled his gun, ordered the man to the ground and handcuffed him. By the time they ran to the shooting scene, other officers had already arrived. They ripped open Crawford's shirt and started CPR.
Crawford was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The witness told police the assailant ran west, toward the dome and was wearing a dark hoodie sweatshirt, shorts, long white socks and flip-flops.
Police set up cruisers along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 16th Street at every intersection from Central Avenue to Fifth Avenue S.
One Nike flip-flop was found near the scene. Officer Christopher Cooper and his police dog, Rocco, traced the shooter's scent and found a matching flip-flop about a block away.
Police heard from a man and woman who were trying to remove a boat trailer from a truck at 10th Street and Fourth Avenue S. They said a young black man had just run by, wearing a dark hoodie and white socks. No flip-flops.
Cooper and Rocco followed the trail through an open field, over a fence and across the interstate toward Campbell Park. At times, the scent went through Booker Creek, and Rocco eventually lost it.
The perimeter expanded south to encompass Citrus Grove Apartments, 811 15th St. S. Police told school authorities to close three area schools.
Wondering if the suspect was trying to escape down the creek and through drain pipes, police secured maps of the city's drainage system. They sent marine units to the Harborage area where the creek meets the bay.
By Tuesday, tips rolled in that "L'il Nick" Lindsey was the shooter. He lived in Citrus Grove and matched the shooter's description.
It almost seemed like an open secret. One witness heard two women talking about it in a crab shop on 16th Street S. Another woman heard two drug dealers talking about it. But people are scared and don't want to be seen talking to police.
Detectives Joe DeLuca and David Wawrzynski, plus backup officers, went to Citrus Grove. They spotted Lindsey in a breezeway and, guns drawn, ordered him to the ground. Inside his apartment they found bullets under his mattress. They did not find a gun.
The teen and his mother agree to go with detectives, police said.
One neighbor sidled up to one of the backup officers to say they had the right man. Lindsey ran through his back yard the night before as helicopters flew overhead. But don't question me here, the witness said, not in front of people.
• • •
The Feb. 22 interrogation video started with Nicholas Lindsey Sr. and Deneen Sweat entering the room and hugging their son.
Much of the video is redacted. In some segments the sound is gone, though the video remains. In other segments, there is just silence and a black screen. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office removed those parts because investigators say they contain the teen's confession. Those cannot be made public until the teenager's trial.
The teen's parents spend 10 minutes cajoling their son to cooperate, to tell what he knows.
At some point when the video is inaudible, the teen's defiant behavior melted. He sank to the floor crying, his head buried in his hands.
His parents seemed to break through.
"We're not coming down on you," the father said. "I'm not going to change nothing about the way I feel.
"You're going to always be my son. I'm here to help you through this."
"You're always going to be my son," the mother said. "We're not going to turn our back on you."
The video goes silent. The teenager appeared to sob as his parents talked to him.
The conversation had been going on 23 minutes when the mother got her son back into his chair. They stood and hugged.
The father, who had left, returned with a detective.
"Oh my God," the teen said.
"You're doing the right thing right now," the father told his son. "You're owning up to your responsibility."
At 9:40 p.m. Feb. 22, nearly 24 hours after Crawford was shot, the detective read Nicholas Lindsey his rights.
The video is heavily edited from this point on.
"It's going to be alright son," the father said. "We're going to be here for you."
"I love you," the mother told her son.
The screen went black.
• • •
St. Petersburg police are still searching for the murder weapon. One of the rumors, according to records, is that it's at the bottom of Lake Maggiore.
The investigation into Crawford's death continues.
As does a pattern of intimidation around the Citrus Grove Apartments, court records show. The complex used to be known as Bethel Heights. A local neighborhood gang there still operates under that name, according to police. A relative told police that the teen may be a member.
"He was with this 'Bethel Heights for life' bull----," the relative said.
Some witnesses who came forward did so fearing retaliation. Others said they felt uneasy after word of their cooperation quickly spread.
One witness said Lindsey's older brother told him the teen had been home the night of the shooting. But the man said he had seen Lindsey running through yards that night.
The day after the teen's arrest, Feb. 23, records show an upset high school student told his teacher he saw Lindsey return to Citrus Grove the night of the shooting with a gun.
The witness said he knew "someone took care'' of the gun and no one will ever find it. But he refused to say more.
The student said he "had to take the secret to the grave," telling the officer:
"In my neighborhood you don't snitch.''