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CONFLICTING VIEWS // WHAT POLICE OFFICERS AND OTHER WITNESSES TOLD INVESTIGATORS // Officer stood in front of car "for safety'

Standing in front of a Pontiac LeMans, his gun drawn, the car bumping him hard enough to throw him on the hood, Officer James Knight believed he had no alternative but to open fire on Oct. 24.

"I was in fear of my life," he told investigators. "He was running over me."

But he avoided saying he was shooting at the human being behind the wheel. To one set of investigators he said he aimed for the "silhouette," and to the others he said he shot at "the windshield."

"I didn't take aim," he said. "It was just point and shoot."

Knight and the officer riding with him that day, Sandra Minor, have not spoken publicly about the circumstances surrounding Knight's controversial shooting of 18-year-old TyRon Lewis.

However, after a grand jury found the shooting justified Wednesday, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and St. Petersburg Police Department released the statements the officers made to investigators after the shooting.

The two officers told very similar stories to prosecutors and to internal affairs detectives. They weren't regular partners but wound up riding together that day because Knight's partner had other duties.

They saw the gold LeMans whiz by them doing about 70, they said, although neither clocked its speed using radar. Knight, who was driving, pulled the police cruiser in behind the car and caught it easily when it stopped at a red light.

They had no idea the driver and his passenger both had outstanding warrants or that the car had been reported missing, but Minor referred to it as "the bad guys' car."

The windows were tinted so dark they could not see inside when they first walked up, both said. They ordered the people in the car to get out, but no one moved. Both said they peered through the windshield.

"I saw a black male, and he had a lot of gold teeth and he was shaking his head no," Minor testified.

Minor went back to the cruiser to call in the tag number and try to maneuver the cruiser to block the LeMans. Knight, left behind at the halted car, stood directly in front of the driver's side of the hood.

Knight said standing to one side of the car was "a tactically unsafe position." He said he stood in front of the car "for safety" as well as for the purpose of intimidating the driver into stopping.

Although standing in front of a car violates police department procedures, Knight said he has done it before and it has always forced drivers to obey him.

"I've never had that happen before," he said. "Everyone usually stops."

But this time the car he wanted to stop did not. It started moving up, bumping him in the legs, eventually bumping his knees hard enough to later send him to Edward White Hospital for minor treatment, he said.

Knight said he thought the driver might have been "just playing, you know, trying to intimidate me. Hey, maybe if I just bump him, he'll move."

Investigators asked him why he didn't get out of the car's path and peer into the windshield from the side. "It was just a sequence that didn't come to mind," Knight said.

When he moved in front of the car, Knight said, he drew his weapon, but held it "at the low ready," not aiming it at anyone. He said he did that because he was facing a "lethal weapon," namely the LeMans.

At that point, Knight said, the worst charges Lewis could have faced were all misdemeanors _ reckless driving, obstructing an officer, failing to comply with an officer's commands.

But when the car hit him harder, he said, he raised his weapon. "There was a strong bump when I leveled the gun onto the suspect and said, "I'll f---ing shoot,' " Knight said. Minor said she never heard Knight say the word "shoot."

Minor walked back with her baton and, with Knight's agreement, began using it to smash a window on the driver's side of the car. Knight said that was intended to show that they were "serious."

But it apparently touched off the final act of the drama. The car moved forward more rapidly, Minor said, "to leave." It hit Knight, throwing him onto the hood, Knight said.

"That's when I fired," Knight said. "I was knocked off balance, up onto the car."

He fired two quick shots that apparently hit Lewis in the arm, then a third that hit him in the chest and pierced his heart. Minor, twisted around to dodge the moving car, didn't see the shots and didn't realize any guns had been fired.

"To me it was just a tap, tap," she said.

Knight said he stopped firing then because "the threat was gone. The vehicle stopped."

"Can you think of anything at that point that you could have done other than fire?" prosecutor Bob Lewis asked him.

"Not at that point," Knight said.

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