Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

Slain Tampa man's family files lawsuit against police

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TAMPA — When a Tampa police officer fatally shot a 26-year-old man during a traffic stop last year, the department stood behind the officer.

The suspect, Pedro Quiles Jr., had reached for a second officer's gun, a police spokeswoman said. It could have ended badly for both the officers.

The dead man's family disagrees.

They say Quiles was shot as he tried to run away.

Footage from a police dashboard camera video, provided to the Tampa Bay Times this week by the family's lawyer, shows Quiles take two steps away from the officers before he's shot.

But police say the video — which replays the confrontation in slow motion — doesn't accurately depict what was just a few intense seconds with a violent suspect.

Quiles was pulled over near 16th Street and Bougainvillea Avenue on Jan. 31, 2011. The officer, who was getting ready to give Quiles a ticket for aggressive driving, called for backup after finding that a different name Quiles provided on a driver's license had an active warrant for a suspended license.

The dash cam video, provided by Miami attorney Jon Herskowitz, was slowed down in editing before it was provided to the Times. It was not otherwise altered, Herskowitz said.

It starts with the two officers approaching Quiles' vehicle.

They pull him out, and Quiles attempts to run from the officers.

They tussle and he falls to the ground with one of them. It's unclear if Quiles is reaching for that officer's gun as they struggle.

The second officer pulls his gun and points it at Quiles as he tries to stand.

Quiles appears to take two steps away from the officers before the one with a drawn weapon fires twice.

Quiles was hit in the back and the side, said Herskowitz, the family attorney. But that's not visible in the video. Quiles is off screen when the bullets strike.

"He was trying to get away," Herskowitz said. "He was no threat at the time."

Quiles' family filed a lawsuit this month against the officer, the department and Police Chief Jane Castor, alleging the officer used unnecessary force.

Herskowitz said the officers should have used a baton or Taser to detain Quiles.

The man's father and two daughters are seeking damages in excess of $15,000. They could not be reached for comment Friday.

The day of the shooting, police said, Quiles grabbed Officer William Cain's gun and attempted to yank it from its holster. That's when Officer Scott Savitt shouted a warning and then shot the suspect twice, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Quiles died at the hospital.

McElroy released a statement late Friday after the Times obtained the video.

"The edited video doesn't accurately depict the violent struggle in which the suspect grabbed the officer's gun and attempted to yank it from his holster," McElroy said. "Nor can you hear Officer Cain yelling, 'He's got my gun! He's got my gun!'

"As the struggle continues, the suspect's sweatshirt is over his arms. Believing the suspect is now armed with Officer Cain's gun and unable to see the suspect's hands, Officer Savitt fears for their lives and fires.

"In reality, this all took place in less than three seconds."

Last year, Tampa police officers' gunfire struck suspects in six separate incidents. Three times it was fatal.

Each of the other three times, the shooting victims were charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.

Two of the incidents are still under investigation, but in the remaining cases, the officers involved were cleared.

The Quiles case is the only one in which family members have sued police.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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