Sunday, August 19, 2018
Opinion

Tampa police chief: Times article left out key facts

Editor's note: Tampa police Chief Jane Castor responds to "Deadly force for so little,'' published in print editions July 6. (The story was published online July 5, with the headline "Informer, not neighbor complaints, led up to fatal Tampa pot raid." A link appears below.)

We believe public safety and public trust go hand in hand, which is why members of the Tampa Police Department are determined to earn that trust every minute of every day.

We also fully understand our role and responsibility in keeping our citizens safe in a professional, ethical and transparent way.

That's why we take any actions involving a fatality very seriously and make sure we fully determine what happened, and why. The loss of a life is a devastating event for all involved and is rightfully open to public scrutiny.

As a matter of department policy, the use of deadly force is always a last resort, used only when the life of a police officer or another is in imminent danger. In the unfortunate instance that an officer has to use deadly force, it is fully and independently investigated, scrutinized and reviewed by our Homicide Unit, the State Attorney's Office and Internal Affairs.

—————

Backstory:

July 5: Informer, not neighbor complaints, led up to fatal Tampa pot raid

May 28: Police release name of suspect in drug raid that turned deadly

May 27: Police fatally shoot marijuana suspect in Seminole Heights

—————

After a painstaking review of all evidence, the state attorney makes an independent finding to determine if the deadly force was justified. Next, our agency completes an exhaustive administrative assessment to ensure there were no violations. The inference that Jason Westcott lost his life as a result of having sold marijuana is erroneous. He lost his life because he decided to point a loaded firearm at police officers.

Here are the facts: Westcott was dealing drugs from his house, where an informant purchased marijuana on four separate occasions. Each time, Westcott was armed with a 9mm pistol. These acts define Felony Armed Sale and Delivery of Narcotics. When weapons are involved with narcotic sales, our policy is to have the Tactical Response Team enter to secure the scene. The decision to use this specialty team has nothing to do with the amount or type of narcotics sold but is predicated on the potential for danger.

During the department's investigation of the threatened home invasion targeting Westcott, no one from our agency advised him to "grab a gun and shoot to kill" if anyone broke into his home.

It also is impossible to mistake the Tactical Response Team for home invaders. What I stated was officers began announcing themselves as they exited their clearly marked police vehicle parked in front of the residence, yelling loudly, "Police, search warrant." They stopped at the front door, banged loudly and again announced, "Police, search warrant" three times before entering. The article stated: "Officers knocked on the front door and announced themselves, but nobody inside answered. Finding the door unlocked, they let themselves into the house." This sounds like a visit from the Avon lady.

The article questioned the amount of marijuana purchased. I explained that, as good stewards of the tax dollar, we purchase enough to obtain probable cause for a search warrant, regardless of the amount available. I made clear that larger quantities of marijuana were observed inside the house, including approximately 40 prepackaged bags, a pound of hydroponic marijuana, digital scales and packaging materials. I also provided 15 examples of search warrants that involved small purchases followed by large narcotic seizures. In one case, officers purchased marijuana three times, totaling just 10 grams. That resulted in seizure of 395 grams of cocaine, 320 grams of marijuana, 35 grams of hydrocodone, two assault rifles, two shotguns, five handguns, two vehicles and $47,000. None of this information was included in the article.

What was not revealed (as requested), and now cannot be investigated further, was additional information suggesting trafficking in heroin.

The bottom line is that police officers are in the business of saving lives, not taking them. This incident is life-changing for all involved, including my officers. They did everything they could to serve this warrant in a safe manner. Every opportunity was given for Westcott to peacefully surrender. He chose to aim a firearm at police officers and, as a result, lost his life.

Ours is a difficult profession with very few clear-cut solutions. But we go out every day and put our lives on the line, doing what no one else will do, to protect our community and serve our citizens honorably. We do not seek recognition or appreciation, but we do expect fair and objective oversight of our actions. That was certainly not the case in the Tampa Bay Times article covering the search warrant on West Knollwood Street.

My officers deserve better, as do the people we serve.

Jane Castor is the chief of police at the Tampa Police Department.

Comments
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

It’s time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the court’s operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18