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Rich Shopes, Times Staff Writer

Rich Shopes

Rich Shopes is a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times covering government and politics in Pasco County.

Before coming to Florida in 1999, he lived in Philadelphia and New Jersey. He worked at the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2012 to cover Plant City. He currently lives in Manatee County with his lovely wife, Sandy, and their squirrel-obsessed Norfolk terrier, Charley.

Phone: (727) 869-6236

Email: rshopes@tampabay.com

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  1. Suspect in Tarpon officer's death has extensive criminal past

    News

    GIBSONTON — Police officials on Sunday called Marco Parilla Jr. a coward, a bad guy and a cop killer.

    The portrayal stunned his family, who described the 23-year-old as "quiet" and "nice," not someone who could possibly gun down a police officer.

    "He was a nice kid. I raised him," his aunt, Juana Melendez said between sobs from the front yard of Parilla's family home on the 11000 block of Ekker Road in Gibsonton. "He was not like that. He was a good guy."...

    Family members recalled Marco Parilla Jr., the suspect in a Sunday’s killing of a Tarpon Springs police officer, as a quiet and fun-loving child.
Photo courtesy of Juana Melendez
  2. Supreme Court denies stay in Florida gay marriage case; couples could marry after Jan. 5

    State Roundup

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday chose not to meddle in Florida's tug-of-war over marriage equality, declining to delay the Jan. 6 start of same-sex vows.

    Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the court to block gay marriage while Florida fights to protect a 2008 constitutional amendment that allows only heterosexual couples to wed. In a one-paragraph order, the court decided not to step into the Florida case....

    Attorney General Pam Bondi sought uniformity on the issue.
  3. Valrico residents battle proposed housing development

    Local Government

    VALRICO — On one side stood a gray-haired, retired land-use consultant named William Alford.

    On the other, about 50 sign-waving residents of Little Road convinced that Alford's client wants to destroy their neighborhood.

    Tucked amid the live oaks, pasture and sprinkling of cattle north of Bloomingdale Avenue sits the object of their dispute: a tiny suburban enclave that straddles Little Road, a throwback to decades ago when the nearest major subdivisions sat miles west in Brandon....

  4. Joe Maddon returns to continue 'Thanksmas' charity event at Ava

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    As former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon mingled, laughed and glad-handed the crowd of diners that filled South Tampa's Ava and 717 South restaurants Friday night, one message rose above the din of pre-holiday cheer:

    Even though the former Rays skipper had moved to the Chicago Cubs, much to the heartbreak of fans, his annual "Thanksmas" fundraising dinner to benefit Tampa Bay area homeless food programs would continue....

    Deana Wallace, bottom center, jumps into a photo booth with Sonya and Tom Woodmansee as Mike Wallace watches in the background at Joe Maddon’s annual ‘Thanksmas’ fundraiser, held Friday evening at Ava in Tampa.
  5. Pasco doctor donates van to family with disabled children

    Human Interest

    HUDSON — Christmas is arriving early for the Clanton family, the Pasco County couple raising four disabled children, including sisters from Ukraine.

    Yvonne Clanton said she pulled up Wednesday to the Bonati Spine Institute on U.S. 19 in Hudson to find a silver-gray Kia minivan sporting a massive red bow. The vehicle came courtesy of back specialist Dr. Alfred Bonati, who saw a Bay News 9 report a few months ago about the Zephyrhills family's plight....

    Yvonne Clanton, with daughter Selah, 10, who was injured when she fell into a canal in 2012, accepted a donation of a minivan on Wednesday. [Photo courtesy of Bay News 9.]
  6. Fiery lawyer Jonathan Alpert, noted for suing banks and the Bucs, dies at 69

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Jonathan Louis Alpert built a reputation for feistiness soon after setting up his law practice in 1986.

    The Tampa lawyer became known nationally for suing banks and securities firms, but he wasn't above tackling cherished local institutions — including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on behalf of unhappy ticket holders.

    "Jonathan always sympathized with people who had been kicked around, and that was reflected in the kind of cases we took," said former law partner Patrick Calcutt of Calcutt & Calcutt in Americus, Ga. "He always believed in giving voice to the voiceless."...

    Multiple sclerosis led to Jonathan Alpert’s 2004 retirement.
  7. Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan admits to ethics violations

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has agreed to pay a $2,000 fine after admitting he violated state ethics laws by failing to properly disclose assets on annual financial disclosure forms.

    Hagan made the admission as part of a November deal with the chief prosecutor for the Florida Commission on Ethics.

    As part of that agreement, Hagan admitted that he failed to properly disclose financial investments during the reporting periods in 2009 through 2013....

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan admitted to improperly filing financial disclosure forms for 12 years, though he will be held accountable only for 2009 through 2013.
  8. Tampa man accused of killing three in custody dispute over nephew

    Crime

    TAMPA — It started with a flash of anger and escalated quickly to a rapid succession of gunshots.

    By the time it was over, two lay dead in a house in east Tampa, while a third, a 23-year-old woman, eventually succumbed to her injuries at Tampa General Hospital.

    The shooting occurred at about 1:47 a.m. Saturday at a nondescript, beige-colored house at 2501 54th St. N.

    Investigators suspect Angel Luis Perez, 22, killed the three — his girlfriend, Olivia Miller, 22; Jorge Gort, his 25-year-old brother-in-law; and Brittany Snyder, 23, Gort's girlfriend — over a custody dispute involving Perez's 3-year-old nephew....

    Friends and family gathered Saturday night to remember the three who were killed Saturday. From left are family friend Jamie Warner and Millie Gort, sister of George Gort. 
  9. Protesters march through downtown Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — With chants of "no justice, no peace," and holding signs stating "Indict the System," about 200 demonstrators briefly closed the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge downtown Friday night to protest what they described as rampant police brutality in U.S. cities.

    "We will do what we need to do," Eric Williams, 31, a University of South Florida maintenance worker and member of the New Black Panther Party, said from Kennedy Boulevard near N Franklin Street. "We are not here for violence. We are just trying to prove a point."...

      Ali Muhammad, 26, center, of Tampa leads the crowd of activists in chants at Lykes Gaslight Park. Protesters from the Tampa Bay area gather in Lykes Gaslight Park demanding justice for the deaths of Eric Garner of New York and Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri both who were killed by police officers while unarmed in downtown Tampa on Friday, December 5, 2014.
  10. Squirrel knocks out power at USF, again

    College

    TAMPA — Perhaps there's an acorn shortage.

    For the second day in a row, a squirrel apparently gnawed a component at a Tampa Electric Co. substation Friday afternoon, knocking out power to 7,000 customers at the University of South Florida and nearby neighborhoods.

    "Same substation, different squirrel," TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said of the latest incident, which shut down power at the campus for an hour and 45 minutes Friday. Power was restored by 6 p.m....

  11. Mother of Brandon basketball player who died sues school district

    Civil

    TAMPA — Milo Meeks' death was preventable and Brandon High School officials should have done more to help the stricken basketball player when he collapsed during practice a year ago, according to a lawsuit against the Hillsborough County School District.

    The seven-page wrongful death complaint filed two weeks ago by Meeks' mother, Traci Oldham, alleges that school officials knew it was a hot, muggy day and should have taken precautions to protect student-athletes when they reported for basketball drills Sept. 20, 2013....

  12. Parents of child killed after ejection from Florida State Fair signal intent to sue

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — The parents of a Riverview teen killed after he was ejected from the Florida State Fair last year are planning to sue the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and fair operator.

    Barry Cohen, attorney for parents Deanna and Andrew Joseph Jr., said he filed a notice of intent to sue on Tuesday, alleging that sheriff's deputies acted improperly when they ejected Andrew Joseph III and other teens from the fair on Feb. 7....

  13. Gov. Scott visits USAA to tout jobs

    Gubernatorial

    NEW TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott strode into the courtyard at USAA to thunderous applause from about 200 employees of the financial services company Wednesday night.

    The event was part of the Republican governor's "Jobs Jamboree" tour following his re-election Nov. 4. Much like on the election trail, Scott was quick to hit on the theme of job creation.

    "We've added 679,000 jobs in the past three years and 10 months," the governor told the crowd, who clapped and cheered between noshing on barbecue. "And that's hard to beat."...

  14. Judge dismisses criminal charges against fired Tampa police sergeant

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A judge has dismissed criminal charges against a former Tampa police sergeant accused of stealing food stamps from a jail inmate, agreeing she could not be held responsible since she had no intent to commit a crime.

    Circuit Judge Samantha Ward granted a defense attorney's motion to throw out the case against La Joyce Houston, 48, who was fired last year after her arrest.

    Houston was facing charges of food stamp fraud and grand theft. In 2013, she bought more than $300 in groceries with an electronic benefits transfer — or EBT — card belonging to Rita Girven, her personal friend and a longtime police informer....

    Rita Girven, who maintained a personal relationship with La Joyce Houston for several years, was also a longtime confidential informant for the Tampa Police Department. She remains jailed on food stamp fraud and grand theft and other charges. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  15. Student recalls tense moments in FSU library

    Human Interest

    Florida State University senior Nate Francis was sitting at a conference table on the second floor of the Robert M. Strozier Library preparing for a presentation to a group of mock international investors when he caught sight of a crowd of two dozen students out of the corner of his eye.

    Nearing the table, he could hear their urgent warnings, just louder than a whisper: "There's a shooter behind us. There's a shooter behind us. There's a shooter in the building."...