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Prosecutors don't file charges in Largo strip club death

LARGO — Nearly 10 months ago, Jayson Zalewski got aggressive at a strip club and punched another customer. He died after the club's manager put him in a choke hold and pinned him to the ground, authorities said.

Now prosecutors have decided not to file charges in the case. An investigation by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office found no proof that a crime was committed by Cecil Chapman, manager of the 24 Karat Gentleman's Club at 16717 U.S. 19 N.

The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office deemed Zalewski's death a homicide. An autopsy found that the 34-year-old died of asphyxia, a lack of oxygen. The cocaine and alcohol in his system also contributed to his death.

But a homicide simply means that an individual died at someone else's hands. It doesn't necessarily mean the death was a crime, said Bill Loughery, felony division director in the State Attorney's Office.

"There is no evidence to support the conclusion that Cecil Chapman displayed a reckless disregard for Jayson Zalewski's life," according to the State Attorney's Office findings, which were released last week.

That decision angers Zalewski's family and friends.

"I just wanted some justice for Jayson. He's gone, and I don't know what happened to him," said his mother, Sandy Mosely, 53. She intends to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of Zalewski's 3-year-old son.

"Jayson died in this guy's hands," said his friend Brian Silvestro. "It would seem a little ridiculous that charges would not be brought."

However, Chapman's lawyer says he and his client aren't surprised by the decision. "We were expecting it based on the statements and Cecil's history in the (club) industry," said the attorney, Brandon Kolb.

Friends describe Zalewski as an upbeat, good-hearted guy who endured some rough times. He had brushes with the law, including convictions in 2005 for grand theft and in 1998 for assault during the course of a burglary.

The State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Chapman, 40, for manslaughter. Its investigation found that Chapman repeatedly warned Zalewski to calm down and leave the club. Instead, according to the investigation, Zalewski "escalated his aggressive behavior by removing his shirt and physically attacking another person."

"Only then did Cecil Chapman physically restrain Jayson Zalewski by grabbing him around the neck and forcing him to the ground," the investigation found.

Even though Zalewski stopped struggling at some point, the investigation found that Chapman's continued efforts to maintain control over him were reasonable in light of Zalewski's aggressive conduct. Chapman also showed remorse when he learned that Zalewski could not be revived.

Here's what happened, according to authorities:

Zalewski came to the full-liquor topless club around 10:30 p.m. Dec. 29. Around 2 a.m., he got in an argument with his ex-girlfriend who worked there. He left but then returned, and Chapman told him to leave.

Outside, Zalewski, who was 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, punched a patron who tried to calm him down. That's when Chapman, who's about 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, grabbed him in a choke hold and took him to the ground, leaning half on Zalewski's back and half on the ground. Zalewski continued to yell and fight.

Around 2:30 a.m., deputies got a call about a disturbance at the club. Zalewski was on the ground about 5 to 7 minutes. About 8 minutes passed between the time of the 911 call and when the first deputy arrived. About a minute before deputies came, Zalewski stopped fighting.

When deputies tried to handcuff Zalewski, they realized he wasn't breathing. They began CPR. He was pronounced dead at Largo Medical Center.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Prosecutors don't file charges in Largo strip club death 10/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2011 9:10pm]
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