ST. PETERSBURG — Dominique Harris, who was killed by police after shooting an officer on Wednesday, was a “person of interest” in an unsolved 2019 homicide, said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Harris was also known to be armed and to flee from police, the sheriff said at a Thursday news conference addressing the shootout, which sent one officer to the hospital and ended with the death of Harris.
Authorities say the 20-year-old tried to ram a car past a blockade of officers attempting to arrest him on a child abuse charge, then fired at an officer. The violent scene unfolded in a crowded grocery store parking lot after 4 p.m.
Police vehicles had boxed-in Harris’ vehicle, the sheriff said, and then he aimed a semiautomatic handgun out of the driver’s side window and shot an officer at close range.
Other officers then opened fire on Harris, in a scene captured on a video posted to Facebook. (Warning: This video contains graphic language and gunfire. The footage was not recorded by the Tampa Bay Times.)
The sheriff said six St. Petersburg police officers fired a total of 50 rounds during the incident. Harris was struck 38 times. He was pronounced dead at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg hospital that night.
Gualtieri declined to name five of the officers because they work undercover, he said. He said the sixth is Officer Richard McKee, who works in patrol. Gualtieri said the undercover officers ranged from 28 years of experience on the force to two.
One of the unnamed officers shot and killed a homicide suspect in 2013, the sheriff said. Two others have fired their weapons in past shootings. All six officers are on administrative leave pending the conclusion of inquiries into the shooting.
Harris fired “at least four times” at the wounded officer from what the sheriff has called “point-blank range.” The officer was shot twice in the mid-torso area and was pulled to safety by another officer during the gun battle. He underwent surgery and was reported to be in stable condition.
Harris was a person of interest in the death of Marquis Scott, a 20-year-old Northeast High School graduate who was fatally shot while riding his bicycle a few blocks from his grandmother’s house on Sept. 17, 2019. Scott’s parents told the Tampa Bay Times last year they believe their son’s death was connected to a November 2018 shooting that their son took part in that left a man paralyzed.
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In September, on the year anniversary of his death, his family held a vigil to remember Scott and the city’s other victims of gun violence. They also pleaded for someone to come forward and provide information that could solve their son’s murder.
Scott’s parents said late Thursday that Harris’ death, and a possible connection to their son’s murder, has left them with conflicting emotions.
“The police department is doing what they can to solve this thing, so it was some encouragement,” said father Maress Scott. “But at the same time, another child lost his life, and a whole family is about to endure what we went through.”
The city spent Thursday grappling with the aftermath of the shootout before the sheriff released new details about the incident.
Earlier that afternoon, St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway asked residents to stay calm and to “wait for the facts to come out” while a task force investigates the actions of the officers who fired their weapons. The chief and Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke outside of St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters downtown.
The mayor said the progress the city has made toward improving relations between police and the community is “hollow” after Wednesday’s shooting.
“Nobody wants to hear about progress when one person is in the hospital and another in the morgue,” he said. “On days like yesterday, it doesn’t matter what we’ve accomplished, how safe St. Pete is.”
Holloway’s comments were the first time the public had heard from the chief since the shooting. Residents took to social media to express confusion as to why Holloway hadn’t spoken out about the incident.
The chief noted that his agency is not involved in the investigation. Instead it is being handled by the Pinellas County Use Of Deadly Force Investigative Task Force, a new program where county law enforcement agencies band together to investigate officers’ use of force. Agencies no longer investigate their own officers.
It was the sheriff, not the chief, who addressed the media on Wednesday night. He said St. Petersburg officers were attempting to arrest Harris on a child abuse charge. The 20-year-old was accused of picking up and body-slamming a 15-year-old at a city basketball court in October, Holloway said. The child was treated at a hospital for bruised ribs, and his parents wanted to press charges.
St. Petersburg’s special Special Investigations Unit, also called “SIU,” is an undercover team that surveils and captures “habitual offenders.” They spotted Harris at the Food Max grocery store at 1401 18th Ave. S, and called in uniformed officers to confirm his identity.
Harris showed the officers his ID, but refused to leave the car and instead tried to ram his way out of the parking lot, the sheriff said. The undercover unit swooped in and tried to block Harris in. What ensued was the third fatal shooting to take place outside the grocery store in recent months. Harris shot the officer, Gualtieri said, and the other officers started firing.
The sheriff said Thursday that Harris has an extensive criminal history and was once monitored by a program for repeat juvenile offenders.
Harris was 14 when he was first arrested in 2014 on charges of carjacking without a weapon, reckless driving and leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage, according to state records. In 2015 he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of grand theft auto and misdemeanor battery, records show, and adjudication was withheld.
He was arrested several times since on charges of throwing a deadly missile into a vehicle or dwelling, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed burglary, criminal mischief and violation of juvenile probation, records show.
Last year, Harris was 19 when he was arrested in June on a charge of burglary and in October on a charge of fleeing and eluding an officer. In the fleeing incident, he’s accused of failing to stop for a police officer, instead speeding through stop signs and then trying to run away before being captured by a police dog.
He pleaded guilty in December 2019 and was sentenced as a youthful offender and given credit for the 52 days he spent in jail.
Some residents who live near the Food Max grocery store told a Times reporter Thursday that were shaken more by the police-involved shooting Wednesday than the previous shootings in the area.
“When the police are shooting at people, it’s not safe no more,” said Jason Allen, 32, who lives nearby. “That causes people to be scared of the police.”
Brandon Williams, 25, said he was confused why an officer was standing on top of a truck shooting at the victim.
“That was police brutality,” he said.
The community’s anger spilling out at Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. St. Petersburg City Council meeting. Some of those who spoke were prominent voices during this past summer’s protests against police violence and racial injustice.
“Yesterday represents a police failure, a systems failure and a community failure,” said Ashley Green of the Tampa Bay Area Dream Defenders.
Harris’ family gathered at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and spent hours waiting for word of his medical condition. They didn’t learn he had been pronounced dead inside until after the sheriff told the media. Green noted the disparity in how the city has treated Harris’ family compared to the officers.
“I hope this dais is considering the same advice when it offers well wishes to the officers involved, and nothing to the family,” she said, later adding:
“How did what happened last night make the community safer?”
Elizabeth Edmonds wanted to play the Facebook video of the shooting, which she said captured screams from inside the Food Max during the gunfire. The council did not permit that.
“If you are able to listen to that without weeping,” she said, “you need to look deeper into yourself.”
City Council members Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman gave an update on their upcoming “Enough is Enough” rally that was planned for noon Saturday at the corner of 18th Avenue S and 34th Street S to address the recent gun violence.
“What impacts south St. Petersburg impacts the entire city,” Figgs-Sanders said. “So it’s not just a south St. Petersburg issue, it’s a St. Petersburg issue.”
Wheeler-Bowman, who lost her son to gun violence in 2008 and earlier this month lost her cousin, said she remembers saying enough is enough 10 years ago.
“Years later, here we are screaming enough is enough again,” she said.
The six St. Petersburg officers who fired their weapons:
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri did not release the names of five of the six St. Petersburg officers who fired their weapons in Wednesday’s fatal shootout because they work for the police department’s Special Investigations Unit. The team also know as “SIU” is an undercover team that conducts surveillance and captures “habitual offenders.” The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released these biographical details about the six officers:
SIU Detective 1: A 36-year-old white man. He has spent 14 years on the force. He has been involved in two firearms’ incidents. He has not been disciplined in the past five years. In 2007 he accidentally fired his weapon after being struck by a vehicle. The gun fired into the air and no one was injured. In 2013, he and another officer shot and killed an armed murder suspect who fired at them. The shooting was later deemed justified.
SIU Detective 2: A 37-year-old white man. He has been on the force for 12 years. He has not been disciplined in the past five years. In 2008, he and another officer shot and killed what police called a “vicious” dog. The officers’ actions were deemed justified.
SIU Detective 3: A 29-year-old Black woman. She has been an officer for two years and has not been disciplined in the past five years. This is her first shooting incident as an officer.
SIU Detective 4: A 41-year-old white man. He has spent 13 years with the department. He has not been disciplined in the past five years. This is his first shooting incident as an officer.
SIU Detective 5: A 49-year-old Black man. He has spent 28 years on the police force. He has not been disciplined in the past five years. In 2003 he and other officers fired their weapons at a robbery suspect who pointed a gun at them. The suspect survived and the shooting was deemed justified. In 2008 he exchanged gunfire with another robbery suspect. That suspect survived and the shooting was deemed justified.
Patrol Officer Richard McKee: A 58-year-old white man. He has spent 28 years with the police department. He has been disciplined once in the past five years. He was given a 5-day suspension for improperly following procedures. In 2010, he accidentally fired a weapon he was clearing that had been seized using a search warrant. No one was injured.