Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

Internal review: Tampa SWAT team acted properly in fatal pot raid

TAMPA — A Tampa Police Department internal review has concluded that SWAT team officers acted appropriately when they fatally shot a 29-year-old Seminole Heights man during an unsuccessful drug raid.

The review, documented in a 415-page file provided to the Tampa Bay Times in response to a public records request, found that police Cpl. Eric Wasierski and Officer Edwin Perez "feared for their lives and the safety of others" when they shot Jason Westcott to death in his home on the night of May 27.

Police had been conducting a narcotics investigation of Westcott and hoped to find large quantities of marijuana in his house. The search yielded only 0.2 grams — or about $2 worth — of pot, in addition to paraphernalia such as a digital scale, plastic baggies and jars with marijuana residue.

During the raid, according to the internal investigation, officers opened the door to Westcott's bedroom and found him on the other side with a loaded, 9mm Taurus Slim pistol. Wasierski and Perez said they immediately shot him because he began to raise the weapon.

An autopsy corroborated their account, indicating that Westcott was initially shot with his right shoulder pointed forward and his right arm lifted partway up his body.

"Based on a thorough review of the totality of the circumstances and the evidence present, it is clear that both Wasierski and Perez were in the unfortunate situation of having to utilize deadly force for their protection and the protection of others," Deputy Chief Brian Dugan wrote in a memo.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office had concluded in June that the police officers were justified in shooting Westcott.

Westcott's mother, Patti Silliman of New Port Richey, said she doubted the Police Department's ability to review its own actions and was still troubled by "inaccuracies and inconsistencies" in the official account of her son's death.

"Words cannot describe the pain that this tragedy has caused our family," Silliman said.

Westcott, a motorcycle mechanic who lived at 906 W Knollwood St. with his boyfriend, had no state criminal record besides driving offenses and a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest dating back 11 years.

No neighbors had complained to police about the house, although Westcott himself called police late last year because he learned that several men were plotting to break in and rob him.

In February, according to police records, an informer began buying marijuana from Westcott on behalf of narcotics detectives, purchasing $160 of pot over about four months.

Detectives said they learned from the confidential source that Westcott had a gun with him during the drug deals, and so enlisted a tactical response team to take him into custody.

The internal review gives the following account of the raid:

On May 27, a BearCat armored car carried SWAT officers to Westcott's home. As they exited the vehicle and walked toward the front door, Cpl. Bryan Felts, the team leader, loudly announced, "Police, search warrant," according to multiple officers present.

At the door, Felts knocked and announced the police team at least three more times, team members said. When nobody answered, the officers let themselves in — the door was unlocked.

Westcott's boyfriend, Israel Reyes, was on a couch in the living room. The first officers inside moved past him to the closed bedroom door.

Wasierski, who was carrying a shotgun, opened the door and immediately saw Westcott on the other side raising a gun.

"I immediately saw … a white arm with the pistol coming toward me," he later told investigators. "So I'm fearing this guy's about to shoot me or this — this gun's gonna fire at me. So I squeeze two off."

Wasierski then fired a third round. Perez, behind him, fired his handgun twice. Westcott was hit by one bullet from the pistol and two shotgun slugs; his fatal torso wound came from a shotgun slug, according to the autopsy report.

Wasierski said he did not have time to tell Westcott to drop the gun, while Perez said, "I don't recall if I had enough time to say 'drop the gun' or anything."

Reyes was taken into custody and later released. He was not charged with a crime.

Contact Peter Jamison at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow @petejamison.

Comments
Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

SANTA FE, Texas — Hardworking. Funny. Loving. Grieving family and friends recalled the endearing qualities of some of the victims of Friday’s mass shooting at a Texas high school, as authorities on Saturday released the names of the 10 killed. Eight ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

TAMPA — After a botched burglary, a fleeing suspect jumped into a canal to escape deputies Saturday afternoon, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The person has not yet been identified. The suspect tried to break into a business on...
Published: 05/19/18
Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

HAVANA — The only three survivors of Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades were clinging to life Saturday, a day after their passenger jet crashed in a fireball in Havana’s rural outskirts with 113 people on board. In the first official dea...
Published: 05/19/18
He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

Cosmo DiNardo declared "I am a savage no explanation needed" on social media seven months before police say he lured four young men to his family’s farm, shot them to death, ran one of them over with a backhoe and dumped three of their bodies in a pi...
Published: 05/19/18
Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies arrested an off-duty Largo firefighter found asleep at the wheel shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday.Patrol deputies saw a 2013 Dodge Dart, facing west and stopped in the intersection of Main Street and Bass Bou...
Published: 05/19/18
After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

Hours after Friday’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, bay area law enforcement officials pledged to beef up school security for the last remaining days of the school year.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister held a news conference late Frid...
Published: 05/18/18
Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

LARGO — Police are searching for a person of interest in the January disappearance of a 24-year-old man.The missing man is Timothy Patrick Cullen, 24, who Largo police said was last seen Jan. 22 at his home in the 500 block of Seventh Ave NE. His veh...
Published: 05/18/18
Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

BAYONET POINT — A 26-year-old man was arrested Thursday on a charge of aggravated child abuse and accused of fracturing an infant’s skull, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Brandon Scott Madrishin told deputies that a 3-month-old infant ...
Published: 05/18/18
20 years later, Hank Earl Carr’s victims are still loved and remembered

20 years later, Hank Earl Carr’s victims are still loved and remembered

When her school bus pulled up to her house that day, Ashley Bell spotted her mom’s car in the driveway and wondered why it was there. A 14-year-old latchkey kid, Bell usually got home before her mother Carolyn arrived from her job as a nurse at St. J...
Published: 05/18/18
Teen held in Texas attack is said to have used father’s guns

Teen held in Texas attack is said to have used father’s guns

SANTA FE, Texas — The Texas student charged in the school shooting at Santa Fe High School posted an image on Facebook of himself wearing a "Born to Kill" shirt and used his father’s shotgun and pistol in the attack that left 10 dead and 10 wounded, ...
Published: 05/18/18