Mourners grieve unarmed man killed by Hillsborough sheriff's deputy

Published September 11 2016
Updated September 11 2016

WEST TAMPA — An attendant held the casket open at the graveyard on Saturday afternoon. The services had ended, but she wanted to see him one last time. With her family holding her up and fanning her face with programs, she sobbed uncontrollably.

A minute went by. Then another. Her wails continued. Her anguish was contagious and raw.

Tears poured down the faces of the roughly 30 people gathered at the Rest Haven Memorial Park Cemetery to say goodbye to Levonia Riggins III. Young women wiped tears from behind large, dark sunglasses. Young men in white shirts cried silently, faces in their hands as they wept.

"Let momma through," they said when Riggins' mother had finished looking at her son. They guided her to an idling car, eased her into the passenger seat and gently closed the door. "We'll talk, but not today," one woman told a reporter.

It was over.

On the morning of Aug. 30, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Caleb Johnson shot and killed 22-year-old Riggins at his Clair-Mel home. Authorities obtained a search warrant after Riggins sold drugs to an undercover officer.

He was unarmed and in his bedroom when Johnson shot him through a bedroom window. Johnson, who is now on paid administrative leave, standard procedure after law-enforcement involved shootings, had said he feared Riggins was reaching for a gun.

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Protests followed. Earlier this week, police charged four men with inciting a riot near Riggins' home, where people lit garbage and other items on fire and blocked traffic.

But Saturday wasn't about that.

"Tomorrow, you go back to 'No Justice No Peace,'" Pastor Antonio Hawkins told the crowd of about 100 who gathered for Riggins' funeral at the Center for Manifestation. "Today, you celebrate his life."

Hawkins urged those in attendance to turn to their faith and not to seek vengeance after Riggins' death.

"Leave it to God," he said.

During the services, several people stood up to remember Riggins, whose nickname was Daddyman.

Two men who worked with him at the Get-N-Go Food Mart spoke to the crowd, recalling him as a respectful, hardworking man who loved his family.

"He approached me at the store as if I was 60 years old… always, 'Yes sir, or no sir," one man told the crowd.

He looked at Riggins' mother.

"You raised a good man," he said.

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.

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