Two years ago today, Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were gunned down in what should have been a routine traffic stop while arresting a suspect on what turned out to be a bad warrant. It rocked a city.
After days of a search for the killer and finally the arrest of Dontae Morris, questions lingered about that bad warrant out of Jacksonville:
Why did a fellow police department seem unwilling to consider fixing glitches in the system if it might one day make another cop safer?
And where was that storied thin blue line, the fierce brother- and sisterhood of cops watching each other's backs no matter how far apart their jurisdictions?
You would not doubt the existence of that thin blue line had you seen hundreds of police officers from every conceivable agency pouring into Tampa when a killer was still in the wind. Most never met the men who died but considered them family anyway.
That night, Curtis pulled over an old Toyota without a tag on 50th Street. A routine check of the passenger — Morris — turned up a warrant out of Jacksonville on bad check charges.
But the warrant was a mistake, since Morris was in prison when the checks were written. And the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office knew this, because when he was soon to get out of prison, a clerk at their agency reviewed the warrants and realized it couldn't have been him. So she declined to put a detainer on his case.
But for reasons still unclear, the warrant wasn't removed from the system — meaning any cop in Florida who encountered Morris would see him as a wanted man.
Curtis called for backup and Kocab arrived. Morris — who was recently questioned about a Tampa murder, and who presumably didn't know these cops were interested only in bad check charges — pulled a gun, slammed out two shots, and they were down, police said.
To be clear: No one is responsible for this except the person who pulled the trigger.
But shouldn't police who work the streets have as much correct information as possible? Couldn't it only stand to make them that much safer?
After an investigation into the warrant situation, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office released a statement. Notably lacking any condolence or acknowledgment of tragedy, it said the clerk "exercised proper judgment and diligence," and made no mention of why the warrant remained active.
It was still active, in fact, days after the two men were killed.
The officers' widows wanted to meet Sheriff John Rutherford to talk change but got no more than a perfunctory response, their lawyer said. They wanted not a court battle, not money, but "Curtis/Kocab Policies" to get invalid warrants out of the system. Finally, this week, they sued.
Howard Maltz, general counsel for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, told me Thursday there have been "clarifications" to the policy: A supervisor is to investigate warrants that look invalid and decide the next step. Good news, though it's not clear why this wasn't made clear sooner, or if it will be enough.
Maltz said the killings were "undeniably tragic" but the fault of "a cold-blooded killer," not the Sheriff's Office. True enough. But if anything can come from what happened two years ago today, it's reaching across a thin blue line to fix anything we can.