Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Witnesses to shooting to bypass police

ST. PETERSBURG — The International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement said it has found eyewitnesses to Saturday's police shooting of a teenager but will not refer them to police.

Instead, it is sending the witnesses to a lawyer who will refer them to prosecutors.

"Most of the people we are talking about are children, young people who are traumatized by this experience, from seeing their friend gunned down before them," said Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela. "I know they are afraid of the police."

Police, frustrated that none of the more than 250 teens at a chaotic graduation party have stepped forward, issued a plea Wednesday for witnesses to cooperate in their investigation into the shooting of Javon Dawson.

Maj. Michael Puetz, who is overseeing the department's criminal investigation, said police would prefer to talk to witnesses but do not mind if witnesses want to speak directly with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which also reviews shootings involving police.

"I don't have any issues if witnesses feel better talking directly to the prosecutors," Puetz said. "Of course, we would like for them to talk to us because we're part of the investigative process."

Police began distributing hundreds of fliers to recreation centers near the Palmetto Park neighborhood where the shooting took place. The fliers ask "Were you there?" and ask anyone with information about the shooting to contact authorities.

Yeshitela said witnesses contend that 17-year-old Dawson was unarmed and running away when officer Terrence Nemeth shot him, contradicting police accounts that Dawson fired several shots in the air before pointing the gun at Nemeth. But Yeshitela has refused to identify the witnesses.

Witnesses will be funneled to St. Petersburg defense attorney Maura Kiefer, who will provide them to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office for supervised questioning, Yeshitela said.

Kiefer was not available for comment.

"It's not a question of somebody trying to keep witnesses from the police," Yeshitela said, "it's a question of youngsters having been traumatized by this experience and the same forces are now chasing them, looking at them."

Yeshitela also criticized news coverage of the shooting, saying reports have been too quick to lionize the officer and criticize Dawson.

He wondered why a teenager with no previous brushes with the law "would choose to engage himself … at an after-graduation party where he would pull a gun and shoot at the police. It's absolutely absurd."

Police found a revolver at the scene near Dawson's body with three spent shell casings inside.

Yeshitela also called for the arrest and conviction of Nemeth, the 24-year-old police officer at the center of the investigation. He called Nemeth, who has been with the department about 18 months, a "battle-scarred" Iraq war veteran.

Times staff writer Abhi Raghunathan contributed to this report. Casey Cora can be reached at (727) 580-1542 or

>>Fast facts

Where to call

Police ask anyone with information to call (727) 893-7164.

Witnesses to shooting to bypass police 06/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 9:57am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Drinking alcohol on St. Pete Beach beaches now allowed — for hotel guests only

    Local Government

    ST. PETE BEACH — Guests at gulf-front hotels here can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas.

    Guests relax on the beach near the Don Cesar at St. Pete Beach. Guests at gulf-front hotels in St. Pete Beach can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas after the change was passed unanimously by the City Commission Tuesday night. Residents and other beachgoers who are not registered guests of the hotels continue to be barred from imbibing anywhere on the city's beaches.
  2. Man found floating in 'Cotee River in New Port Richey

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A body was found floating in the Pithlachascotee River on Tuesday morning, police said.

  3. More than 13,000 fact-checks later, PolitiFact celebrates 10-year mark


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Adair still remembers the moment when he realized his idea to fact-check politicians could turn into something big.

    (from left to right) Aaron Sharockman, Politifact executive director introduces a panel featuring Angie Holan, Politifact editor; PolitiFact founder Bill Adair and Tampa Bay Times Editor and Vice President Neil Brown at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event celebrated 10 years of PolitiFact and its growth since 2007. The panel discussed the history of the organization and how it goes about fact-checking. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
  4. Trump, McConnell feud threatens GOP agenda


    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell has fumed over Trump’s criticism.
  5. Baker lowers expectations for primary


    Rick Baker officially lowered expectations Tuesday, saying his “battle for the future of the city” against Mayor Rick Kriseman might last until November.

    Rick Baker addresses supporters on Beach Drive Tuesday