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NAACP leader's shop visit draws inquiry

NAACP president Darryl Rouson, who over the years has used unconventional methods to try to rid St. Petersburg neighborhoods of drugs, is being investigated by State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office over a visit to a St. Petersburg tobacco shop.

On Friday, Rouson, accompanied by an attorney, met with Assistant State Attorney Lydia Wardell for an hour to give a sworn statement, he said. Wardell would only confirm the meeting and that she is investigating Rouson's conduct during a June 23 visit to the Purple Haze Tobacco and Accessories Shop at 1427 34th St. S.

Rouson, who said the office is considering charging him with misdemeanor criminal mischief or misdemeanor trespassing, arrived at the store about 7 p.m., according to a police report.

Rouson, who accuses shops such as Purple Haze of selling paraphernalia for illegal drugs "under the guise of being tobacco accessories," said his objective was to "talk to the owner about not retailing death utensils in a community already suffering from drugs."

But Leo Calzadilla, Purple Haze's owner, said after Rouson arrived at his store, he refused to leave after being asked first by a clerk and then by Calzadilla. Calzadilla also says Rouson went "through my merchandise" behind the store's counter, "shaking the showcases," and "knocking pipes off the wall."

"He said, "You're selling merchandise that's for death and destruction' and all this other stuff," said 42-year-old Calzadilla, who said all of his merchandise is legal and for tobacco use. "You just don't come into somebody's store and start trashing the place, and that's what he was doing."

Rouson, 49, and an attorney disputed the version given by Calzadilla, who said he was across the street at another store when Rouson showed up. An employee called Calzadilla, who said he "grabbed (Rouson) by his belt, and I pulled him out of the store."

"I didn't shake any shelves, I didn't wail . . . It was three of them and a pit bull," Rouson said.

Rouson, who said police, drug users and community activists alerted him to Purple Haze's merchandise, said he refused to leave and "purposely" waited for police to "escort" him out "because I was concerned for my safety with the way they were acting and with the pit bull."

For at least the past three years, Rouson, a former drug user, has been trying to rid retailers _ particularly those in mostly African-American neighborhoods _ of what he and other critics view as drug paraphernalia such as glass tubes and pipes.

In 2001, authorities charged Rouson with petty theft after he took 11 glass tubes sold with silk roses, which critics say drug addicts use to smoke crack, from Sam's Shell. The charge was later dropped.

Marcus Franklin can be reached at mfranklinsptimes.com or (727) 893-8488.

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