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Dontae Morris attorney likens Hillsborough jail to Guantanamo

TAMPA — Dontae Morris' attorney is once again fighting for his client's visitation privileges, this time likening Morris' jailhouse isolation to the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Morris should be presumed innocent and treated humanely despite the emotionally charged case against him, attorney Byron Hileman wrote in a motion filed this month.

Morris is accused of killing five people, including Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. The officers were gunned down during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010.

Morris lost his phone and video visitation privileges in March amid allegations that he tried from a jail phone to find out what his ex-girlfriends were telling police.

Over the summer, jail officials allowed Morris' mother and maternal grandmother to talk to him through remote video conferences, but he lost that privilege after he violated a jail rule, said Morris' attorney, Byron Hileman.

That privilege was suspended from Sept. 19 to Oct. 10, said Col. Jim Previtera, who is in charge of the county's jails. And it's because Morris used a computer monitor — available to any inmate — to schedule video conferences he knew family members would not be attending.

"He knew it would get him out of his cell," Previtera said.

For each scheduled visit, the pod would go into lockdown and several deputies would have to work to safely move Morris to the video terminal.

Previtera said it was a waste of employee resources. At a Nov. 15 hearing, he plans to present evidence that Morris acted deliberately.

Hileman said he wasn't clear on the jail's accusations. He said he wants to keep Morris focused on his case, not on "side issues."

In the motion, Hileman writes that Morris' isolation has been wearing on his emotional stability and has become his overriding focus.

"Any time that a defendant gets preoccupied with side issues … it interferes with what my job is, which is preparation for the trial," Hileman said.

He also said Morris' sister and paternal grandparents want to be included in the video conferences.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Dontae Morris attorney likens Hillsborough jail to Guantanamo 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 11:48pm]
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