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Board vindicates officer in shooting of suspect

A shooting review board has concluded that a police officer was justified in shooting a robbery suspect who struggled with the officer and then fired one shot at him.

Officer Anthony Harris was justified and followed department policy when he shot Lester James Mathis, 25, of 2817 M.L. King (Ninth) St. S, once in the upper right leg, Police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger wrote in a memorandum. Harris shot Mathis about 4 a.m. Feb. 4 after Mathis hit the officer in the face several times, pulled out a gun and then fired once at the officer, said Wendell Creager, a St. Petersburg police spokesman.

The incident occurred after Harris located a car at 22nd Avenue S and 37th Street that fit the description of one used in an armed robbery just minutes earlier in the parking lot of the Split Second convenience store, 101 34th St. S, Creager said. Harris followed the car, called other officers for help and stopped the car in the 2300 block of Fourth Street S, Creager said.

Harris struggled with Mathis, then Mathis pulled a handgun and fired at Harris, Creager said. Harris and two other officers at the scene were not hit by the bullet. Harris then fired back with his 9mm handgun.

Mathis was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was treated and released, Creager said. Mathis remains in jail in lieu of $160,000 bail on charges of armed robbery; battery on a police officer; aggravated battery from a previous incident; three counts of aggravated assault; and one count of attempted homicide.

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