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U.S. attorney's office explains investigation

The following press release was issued Monday by the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa:

_ The United States has closed its civil rights investigation into the death of a St. Petersburg, Florida, man who was fatally shot by a St. Petersburg, Florida, police officer on Oct. 24, 1996, during a traffic stop, the Department of Justice announced today.

An investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa, Florida, the FBI and the department's Civil Rights Division into the death of TyRon Lewis by St. Petersburg police Officer James Knight failed to uncover evidence to support a criminal prosecution under the standards of the federal civil rights statutes, according to U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson of Tampa and Acting Assistant Attorney General Isabelle Katz Pinzler of the Civil Rights Division.

Title 18, United States Code, Section 242 provides in pertinent part:

Whoever, under color of any law . . . willfully subjects any person in any state, Territory, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . shall be (punished).

To constitute a criminal violation of Lewis' civil rights under federal law, the evidence would have had to show that Knight acted willfully and with "specific intent" _ that he actually knew that he was using excessive force at the time of the shooting, the department said. Unlike the standards in some state criminal statutes, negligence or recklessness are not sufficient for conviction under this federal law.

The department said its investigation, which began Oct. 25, 1996, involved a review of physical evidence, medical and autopsy reports and state evidence and interviews of more than 62 witnesses by FBI agents and attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and the Tampa U.S. attorney's office. It said eyewitness testimony was pivotal in its decision.

The investigation of Lewis' death did not include allegations of a pattern and/or practice of police misconduct against groups or persons and its conclusion should not be construed as an endorsement of past police practices in south St. Petersburg, the department said. The investigation concerned only the shooting.

The department said citizens can file any complaints of civil rights abuses to the FBI's Tampa office, (813) 273-4566.