Jail officials block Dontae Morris calls, family visits, at police request

TAMPA — Amid concerns of witness safety, authorities have cut off most of Dontae Morris' communication with the outside world.

He can't have jail visitors or call friends and family. Jail officials eliminated the privileges earlier this month at the request of the Tampa Police Department.

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the department occasionally makes such requests "to protect the safety of witnesses."

She did not elaborate on what Morris may have said or done to elicit the response. She said the decision is part of an ongoing investigation, so the department isn't required to explain.

Morris' mother, Selecia Watson, said jail officials told her the investigation involved phone conversations, but she wasn't told what was said.

Morris is accused of fatally shooting two Tampa police officers last summer, as well as three other Tampa men. He faces the death penalty.

This isn't the first time the Orient Road Jail has limited his access to family and friends. His calls were also restricted for a short period last summer.

Phone use is a privilege, said Col. Jim Previtera, who's in charge of the county's jails. The only protected form of communication is that between a defendant and his attorney.

That hasn't been jeopardized, said Morris' attorney, Byron Hileman, who works for the state conflict counsel.

"I'm meeting with him later this week," Hileman said.

Hileman said he's not happy his client has been cut off from family, but the attorney said he can't pass judgement on the jail's decision or any police investigation of calls because he hasn't seen the evidence.

He won't know what Morris has been accused of — if anything — until the probe is closed or charges are filed.

That concerns Morris' mother, who regularly received calls from her son and visited him through the jail's video conference system.

She worries about her son's health and safety and wants to be able to check on him.

"I've been able to talk to Maj. (Curtis) Flowers, and he's assured me that my son is okay," she said. "But I still haven't had the opportunity to see him or talk to him myself."

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

Jail officials block Dontae Morris calls, family visits, at police request 03/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 12:29am]

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