08/15/14 Public Safety
TAMPA — A Tampa Police Department internal review has concluded that SWAT team officers acted appropriately when they fatally shot a 29-year-old Seminole Heights man during an unsuccessful drug raid.
The review, documented in a 415-page file provided to the Tampa Bay Times in response to a public records request, found that police Cpl. Eric Wasierski and Officer Edwin Perez "feared for their lives and the safety of others" when they shot Jason Westcott to death in his home on the night of May 27....
TAMPA — Overriding the resistance of law enforcement officials, a judge has ordered prosecutors to disclose a broad range of records documenting the work of a scandal-plagued Tampa police informer.
The order comes in the criminal case against Rita Girven, an informer who is now at the center of a federal corruption investigation involving the Tampa Police Department. Girven and three former TPD employees are suspected of conspiring to commit tax fraud....
TAMPA — Before the sirens and stretcher arrived on a hot night in May, there had been only one call to police about 906 W Knollwood St. It came from the house's renter, Jason Westcott, and he was looking for help.
A man who had partied at Westcott's home was plotting to rob him. An itinerant motorcycle mechanic, Westcott didn't have much — two televisions and a handgun that once belonged to his brother were perhaps the most valuable possessions in his 600-square-foot house in Seminole Heights — but he was terrified by his would-be intruder's threats to kill him....
TAMPA — As he drove his Ford Mustang east on Interstate 4 on a Saturday afternoon last summer, with an enraged stranger waving a gun through the open window of a car behind him, Fred Turner Jr. was bewildered and afraid.
He was about to die that way.
"I have no idea who this guy is, and I know I didn't do anything to upset him like cut in front of him," Turner told a 911 dispatcher. ...
TAMPA — Rita Girven was one of the Tampa Police Department's most prolific informers, helping investigators crack anywhere from 50 to 150 cases, according to the still-uncertain estimates of her attorneys and former police handlers.
Now, as she finds herself enmeshed in a corruption scandal that has led to a federal grand jury investigation involving at least three former Police Department employees, Girven's abundant cooperation could turn into a liability for law enforcement....
TAMPA — There are snitches. And then there is Rita Girven.
Girven, 31, took her job as a police informer so seriously that she listed the city of Tampa as her employer on her Facebook page. A small-time scammer who had been arrested more than 30 times, she helped put away dozens of other criminals and was the go-to source for leads on crime in the violent streets of east Tampa.
But her help didn't come free....
PLANT CITY — A former homicide detective who punched and pulled a gun on a schoolteacher during a road-rage incident will avoid criminal penalties through a deal with prosecutors finalized Thursday.
Thomas Pettis, 55, a veteran Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, will have a battery charge against him dismissed in exchange for his participation in an intervention program that includes 16 hours of community service, anger-management classes and a few hundred dollars in fees, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office announced. ...
TAMPA — To neighbors and acquaintances, Darrin Campbell was the picture of unassuming prosperity, a businessman whose only apparent fault was a touch of obsessiveness about his home's Christmas decorations.
Last week, when Campbell executed his wife and children before burning down the family's Avila home and shooting himself in the head, that picture dissolved. Those who knew the Campbells, and many who did not, were bewildered. What transformed a 49-year-old executive into a methodical killer?...
A Tampa executive "systematically" executed his wife and two teenage children in their bedrooms before splashing gasoline throughout the family's mansion, shooting himself in the head and burning down the house, authorities said Friday.
The official — albeit still incomplete — account of the inferno that consumed the $1 million home in the exclusive Avila community north of Tampa this week confirmed what was widely suspected: Darrin Campbell, 49, was responsible for the deaths of his wife, Kimberly Campbell, 51, and children Colin Campbell, 18, and Megan Campbell, 15....
TAMPA — All four people found dead this week in a burning mansion north of Tampa were shot, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday evening.
Investigators also found a gun registered to Darrin Campbell, the 49-year-old man who leased the house with his family, and discovered Campbell had bought gas cans and what one official called an "exceedingly large" number of fireworks in the days before the blaze....
TAMPA — The lines have been drawn in a series of contested judicial elections in Hillsborough County — and it appears that voters excited by the rare prospect of a challenge to a sitting judge will have to wait.
Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, a longtime jurist known for presiding with pith and occasional severity over the courthouse's sex crimes division, had faced a challenge from defense attorney William Knight....
TAMPA — A former Hillsborough County sheriff's detective who pulled a gun on a schoolteacher during a road rage incident is poised to avoid jail time or a criminal record through a deal offered by prosecutors, the deputy's attorney said.
Thomas Pettis, 55, has been approved by the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office for its misdemeanor intervention program, according to his attorney, Norman Cannella Sr. of Tampa. As a result, a misdemeanor battery charge against him will be dropped if he completes community service with the Salvation Army, Cannella said....
TAMPA — The crash shattered the rear windshield of Evan Rees' Honda sedan. Sitting in the back seat, Rees, a 44-year-old teacher from Sebring, gaped through the empty window frame at the truck that had rear-ended his family on Interstate 4 east of Tampa.
He didn't have long to stare, as a man jumped from the truck's driver-side door and stormed toward the Honda. Rees, who had spent the afternoon at the Florida State Fair with his wife, sister and niece, stepped out to meet him. As a shouting match erupted, the man grabbed him, and the pair tumbled to the ground....
04/21/14 Human Interest
TAMPA — A dozen boxes might be enough to contain the detritus of an average career. For the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who spent more than four decades representing Pinellas County in Washington, D.C., the paper trail extends a little farther.
About 120 boxes of documents accumulated during Young's half-century in politics arrived Monday at the special collections library of the University of South Florida, a portion of the 250 boxes that eventually will be compiled by university researchers for posterity....
04/14/14 Human Interest
The Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting Monday, earning national recognition for stories that exposed a government agency's inhumane treatment of Hillsborough County's homeless population.
The award was given to Times staff writers Will Hobson, 29, and Michael LaForgia, 30, whose reporting on the county's Homeless Recovery program revealed that the agency — created in 1989 to provide transitional housing for the poor — funneled millions of public dollars to slumlords and placed families in unsafe living conditions....