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Laura C. Morel, Times Staff Writer

Laura C. Morel

Laura covers law enforcement and courts in Pinellas County. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in May 2012.

Born and raised in Miami, she speaks Spanish and holds degrees from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston.

Phone: (727) 893-8232


Twitter: @LauraCMorel

  1. Sheriff's Office: Car burglar left his phone behind in vehicle



    Sheriff's Office: Car burglar left his phone behind in vehicle

    Jacob Leonard embarked on a car burglary spree May 10, according to arrest reports.

    He pilfered an iPod Touch from a Ford Explorer, headphones and a gym bag from a GMC truck, and a Hillsborough sheriff's-issued belt containing a Taser, radio and handcuffs from a deputy recruit's Dodge Grand Caravan in the residential streets of north unincorporated Clearwater, just south of Curlew Road along U.S. 19, reports state....

  2. St. Petersburg police, Walmart hope hourlong meeting improves working relationship

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — Police officials said Thursday after a meeting with Walmart representatives that they were impressed with the retailer's commitment to reducing the high volume of law enforcement calls at its St. Petersburg stores.

    "They clearly recognize there's an issue, and they don't deny that," said St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Jim Previtera. "This was not a defensive Walmart. This wasn't a justification conversation."...

    Shoppers walk into the entrance of a Walmart supercenter recently. [BOYZELL HOSEY   |   Times]
  3. Lawsuit alleges wife of slain Tarpon Springs doctor conspired to kill him


    The children of a 74-year-old doctor stabbed and shot dead two years ago inside his Tarpon Springs home are suing their stepmother, Rebecca Schwartz, claiming she conspired to kill him.

    A year after Dr. Steven Patlin Schwartz was killed on May 28, 2014, Tarpon Springs police arrested his handyman, Anton Stragaj, 38, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. He has been charged with first-degree murder....

    Dr. Steven Schwartz, 74, was found dead in his Tarpon Springs home on May 28, 2014.
  4. Walmart representatives to meet with Pinellas law enforcement following Times investigation

    Public Safety

    Walmart has reached out to law enforcement in Tampa Bay to set up meetings and discuss the high number of calls officers take at its stores.

    The conversations follow a Tampa Bay Times investigation about police service at Walmarts across the region. Representatives from the Arkansas-based company have reached out to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Tampa and St. Petersburg police departments to schedule meetings....

    Largo police Officer Kenny Hastings surveys the Walmart on Missouri Avenue while on patrol in February.
  5. Tampa council member requests that police look into Walmart calls following Times investigation


    Tampa council member Frank Reddick requested Thursday that police officials appear with a report at the next city council meeting on June 2 with information on how many calls the city’s Walmarts received in the past year.

    He also wants to know the nature of the police calls, as well as how many arrests resulted from those incidents.

    Reddick’s request comes days after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that local Walmarts accounted for nearly 16,800 police calls in just one year. That's two calls an hour, every hour of every day....

    A Pinellas Park police cruiser rolls past the entrance of a Walmart supercenter in February.
  6. Tampa Bay officials call for action after Times' Walmart investigation

    Public Safety

    Officials across Tampa Bay are calling on Walmart to meet with community leaders and to reduce the burden that the corporate giant places on local law enforcement.

    "I believe that there's an issue here of an extraordinary expense being passed on to the taxpayer for what might be a responsibility of the business owner," Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said at a meeting Wednesday....

    Shoppers walk into the entrance of a Walmart supercenter recently. [BOYZELL HOSEY   |   Times]
  7. Clearwater police make arrest in 2007 homicide


    CLEARWATER — The family of Leon Dash, a security guard who was killed as he tried to break up a brawl outside a downtown Clearwater bar, finally heard the news they had been hoping to hear for nearly a decade.

    Witnesses had come forward, Clearwater police Detective Michael Hasty told them Monday, and a 30-year-old man had been charged in connection with Dash's death. Preston Lloyd Bell of Clearwater faces a manslaughter charge....

    The family of homicide victim Leon Dash had waited nearly nine years for an arrest in his case.
  8. Pinellas deputy resigns, Clearwater sergeant suspended following questionable traffic stop (w/video)

    Public Safety

    Clearwater police Sgt. Jay Holsombach was on patrol the night of Jan. 23 when a silver Nissan with its headlights off sped down Drew Street at more than 60 mph.

    As he pulled onto the road to stop the Nissan just after 1 a.m., the car continued east, this time speeding at 90 mph and running a red light at Belcher Road. Holsombach turned his emergency lights off when the car slowed down and pulled into the parking lot of St. Petersburg College's Clearwater Campus....

    Bailiff Jessica Nascimento, left, escorts defendant Demetrius Jordan into court in 2012.
  9. Tampa Bay Walmarts get thousands of police calls. You paid the bill.

    Public Safety

    Police come to shoo away panhandlers, referee parking disputes and check on foul-mouthed teenagers.

    They are called to arrest the man who drinks a 98-cent iced tea without paying and capture the customer who joyrides on a motorized shopping cart. The calls eat up hours of officers' time. They all start at one place:


    Read the full story. ...

    [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  10. Pinellas commissioner visits site of crash where three teens died in a submerged car (w/video)

    Public Safety

    The deaths of three teen girls killed inside a stolen car as it sank into the depths of a muddy pond March 31 hit close to home for Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.

    Last August, three of his cousins were killed in a wreck in DeSoto County when a pickup struck their car as they returned to St. Petersburg from a religious convention in Fort Pierce.

    When the accusations against the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office escalated last week, with critics saying that deputies let the girls die and calling for an independent investigation, Welch decided to visit the pond Friday....

    Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch recorded a video of his visit to the crash site.
  11. Two men arrested in connection with baby formula heist at East Lake Walmart



    Two men arrested in connection to baby formula heist at East Lake Walmart

    Two men are accused of taking more than 100 cans of baby formula from a Walmart neighborhood market in the last few weeks, according to arrest reports.

    Surveillance video from the store at 3400 East Lake Road captured William Kelly, 65, and Purvis Sealy, 26, pushing carts containing the cans, worth $15.97 each, out to the parking lot. The thefts occurred in late March and throughout April....

  12. In campaign Facebook page, candidate compares Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to Hitler


    A candidate in the Pinellas Sheriff’s race recently launched a Facebook page against current Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that displays a photoshopped image of Gualtieri as Adolf Hitler.

    James McLynas, 57, of Indian Shores, wrote in the page that he is “running for Sheriff to protest Robert Gualtieri’s corruption.”...

    A photo in James McLynas' Facebook page shows a photoshopped image of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Hitler.
  13. Pinellas commissioner tries to wade into pond where three teens died in stolen car crash


    A lot of questions have surfaced in recent weeks about the way Pinellas Sheriff’s deputies responded when a stolen car sank into a cemetery pond March 31, killing three teenage girls inside.

    Critics have said that the deputies didn’t do enough to rescue the teens while Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has maintained that the water conditions were not safe. A deputy wrote in a report related to the crash that they attempted a rescue, but noted there was “unstable ground” and “excessive water vegetation,” which made a rescue “too risky for those involved.”...

  14. Man guilty of killing St. Petersburg chef in hit and run sentenced to 30 years in prison


    LARGO — One of the first words Aaron Davis' 2-year-old daughter, Audrey, learned to say was "dada." Now, she wonders why he isn't home.

    A few days ago, she asked her mom, Ana Davis: "Are you on the phone with daddy?"

    On Monday, Ana stared across a courtroom at Jason Lanard Mitchell, the man who struck and killed her husband, a popular chef, last April as Mitchell sped while drunk across downtown St. Petersburg. Three days after the crash, Ana gave birth to the couple's second child....

    Jefferson Davis, the father of the deceased, Aaron Davis, shows pictures of his son to the court and to Judge Michael Andrews (on right) during the sentencing for Jason Mitchell at the Pinellas County Court complex Monday morning (04/25/16). Mitchell, was speeding from police April last year when his rental car killed Kitchen St. Pete chef Aaron Davis who was going home after work. He could get 46 years in prison.
  15. Dash cam video of stolen car crash that killed three girls raises questions on social media regarding Pinellas Sheriff's Office actions (w/video)

    Public Safety

    A portion of a dash cam video from the March 31 crash that killed three teenage girls who were in a stolen car as it sank into a pond circulated on social media Friday, prompting questions about whether Pinellas Sheriff's deputies did enough to rescue them.

    Earlier this week, the Sheriff's Office released its investigation report and several dash cam videos from the crash....

    Three teenagers,  Laniya Miller, 15, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Dominique Battle, 16, 
drowned after the car they were in drove off the road and sank in a pond near a cemetery off Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg. [TONY MARRERO   |   Times]