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Officer says actions legal in shooting

St. Petersburg police Officer James Knight said Tuesday he was "always certain of the legality" of his actions when he fatally shot TyRon Lewis in October of last year.

Knight's remarks came a day after federal investigators said they found no evidence that he violated Lewis' civil rights by shooting him during a traffic stop.

"I now hope that certain members of the media and of the public will no longer continue to judge me based on hearsay and innuendo," Knight said during a brief news conference Tuesday outside the St. Petersburg office of his attorney, Joseph Ciarciagliano.

Knight read from a written statement while eight television cameras rolled in front of the Mirror Lake office. Neither he nor Ciarciagliano would answer questions after the statement.

Knight, 35, thanked his family and the Police Benevolent Association for their support.

"To the members of the general public who so greatly supported me, I will always remember and cherish your expressions of concern and encouragement that I have received," he said.

On Oct. 24, 1996, at 16th Street and 18th Avenue S, officers Knight and Sandra Minor pulled behind a 1980 Pontiac driven by Lewis, 18. Lewis refused to get out or roll down his window.

The confrontation ended when Knight, who said the car lurched forward and hit him, fired three shots through the windshield. The shooting and a subsequent finding by a Pinellas grand jury that Knight was justified prompted two nights of racial disturbances.

The yearlong federal investigation of evidence, medical and autopsy reports and interviews of more than 62 witnesses did not uncover evidence to support criminal prosecution under civil rights statutes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Knight was suspended for 60 days without pay for standing in front of Lewis' car with his gun drawn. Minor, the community police officer with Knight, was reassigned and is covering prostitution along 34th Street N.

Mayor David Fischer said the aftermath of the shooting is anything but forgotten.

"There's no closure to the case until we're well on our way to changing the way of life in the inner city," he said.

_ Times staff writer Adam Smith contributed to this report.