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Manhunt for Tampa police killer handled well, report finds

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn talks Tuesday about the teamwork of the many law enforcement agencies, many with representatives behind him, during the four-day hunt for Dontae Morris.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn talks Tuesday about the teamwork of the many law enforcement agencies, many with representatives behind him, during the four-day hunt for Dontae Morris.

TAMPA — During a four-day manhunt after two of their own were killed, Tampa police officers handled the search for suspected shooter Donate Morris in a "textbook" manner, a report released Tuesday states.

The Washington, D.C.-based CNA Institute for Public Research, which independently reviewed the manhunt last fall, made a few suggestions but largely praised the department.

Bernard Melekian of the U.S. Justice Department said Tampa's actions will serve as a model for other agencies.

"When you look at how the community pulled together, it really is incredibly impressive," he said.

The report, funded by the Justice Department, cost $30,000 to produce.

Analysts reviewed police radio transmissions, read and watched media reports and interviewed about 30 people involved in the manhunt.

Police started searching for Morris immediately after officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis were shot in a traffic stop early June 29. Morris was arrested four days later at a South Tampa law firm, but details about his capture were not included in the report.

The researchers faced some limitations. They did not have access to police reports or other key pieces of information as yet unreleased.

Tampa police say their investigation is still open. Details that won't come out until the trial — such has how Morris was captured — were not provided, said agency spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

McElroy said police wanted CNA to conduct its review immediately so the officers' memories would be fresh. It's unclear why CNA didn't wait to complete the report until all documents were available.

The report mentions that Tampa police received a few complaints from the community during the manhunt, at times intrusive. But it states that "the community was not alienated ... by law enforcement's extensive actions. Instead, the response from the community was positive..."

During the manhunt, the Times and other media reported on complaints from East Tampa residents, including those in the Kenneth Court apartment complex.

Police presence, including a prolonged SWAT-led search one afternoon, put some on edge. Some residents said they resented not being allowed into their apartments. One woman said the sight of armed police scared her 5-year-old niece.

Report author James Stewart said the analysts gathered information about community reaction through interviews with law enforcement and a few community activists, including a reverend, although he could not recall their names.

He said the analysts didn't knock on doors or go out into the community.

McElroy noted that the grumbling didn't turn into violence.

Several sections of the report focus on news coverage.

It states, for example, that to build support for the manhunt, police informed reporters that Morris was also suspected of killing Derek Anderson, who was black.

"If the public knew he killed innocent African-American citizens as well as police, they might be more inclined to tolerate the inconvenience of the police searches," the report states.

It also describes some media actions as intrusive, mentioning that reporters — referred to as "freelance investigators" — sometimes arrived at scenes before the police.

Police Chief Jane Castor said the department learned several lessons through the manhunt.

The most important, she said, was that the department should have immediately started organizing tips that poured in. For the first 18 hours of the Morris manhunt, police relayed tips through dispatchers.

They have since learned to immediately use their E-SPONDER software, which helps organize information for large-scale events.

It was used immediately after the February shooting of St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford.

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Manhunt for Tampa police killer handled well, report finds 05/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 11:59pm]

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