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Family waits for answers after man dies in shooting involving five Tampa officers

Police say Jonas Joseph fired on officers during a traffic stop. His family disputes that account, and wants to know more about his death.
Jonas Joseph, 26, was killed in by Tampa police officers in an April 28 shooting. Police say Joseph fired on them, but his family disputes that account.
Jonas Joseph, 26, was killed in by Tampa police officers in an April 28 shooting. Police say Joseph fired on them, but his family disputes that account. [ Facebook ]
Published Jun. 12, 2020
Updated Jun. 12, 2020

TAMPA — It has been 45 days since Tampa police officers shot and killed her son, and Otancile Colas says she is still waiting for answers.

Jonas Joseph, 26, was killed in an April 28 shoot-out with officers, according to Tampa police. His white Chevy Impala matched the description of a vehicle linked to a drive-by shooting. Officers said they conducted a traffic stop. Joseph pulled into a driveway, police said, then backed into an officer’s vehicle in an attempt to flee and struck a tree.

Joseph then fired on officers, police said, and they returned fire, killing the 26-year-old.

The family disputes the police account. They say he was shot 62 times by five police officers. They say they learned that from a medical examiner’s report and after talking to an investigator, who they said told them the officers emptied their magazines. They say the officers fired 115 to 120 rounds total.

They say their calls and emails to the Tampa Police Department about its investigation into the shooting have gone unanswered. They haven’t been allowed to see Joseph’s car, receive his personal effects, or even the clothes he was wearing.

They haven’t been given any police reports, or even a case number. Nor have they seen any video of his death that may have been captured on police cameras.

“Jonas is a hard worker and they took Jonas’ life from my hands for no reason,” the 51-year-old mother said at a news conference Wednesday. “Jonas got killed, my sweet, sweet son.”

Tampa police declined to comment on this case. It is standard procedure for law enforcement agencies to not comment on ongoing investigations. The agency referred questions to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office, which declined to comment because the investigation is still active.

Related: Tampa police release name of man killed in shoot-out involving five officers

The family’s demand for answers takes place as protests against police brutality and racial injustice continue across the bay area and the country, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for eight minutes, 46 seconds.

For two weeks now, the protesters marching through Tampa have chanted Joseph’s name.

Nearly 37,000 have signed a change.org petition asking Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers to compel Tampa police to release any video evidence they have of Joseph’s death. Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk, Inc. the Poor Minority Justice Association and Tampa civil rights activist Michelle Williams have all publicly stated their intent to help the mother look into her son’s case.

Williams said prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump has been retained as the family’s legal counsel. His firm did not return a call or email from the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

And in an impromptu press conference outside the police department’s downtown headquarters on Wednesday, those activists stood beside a weeping Colas as they announced that a new, unnamed witness has come forward with his own account and blurry, dark cell phone video of Joseph’s death.

Now here’s the truth ‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️I was shot and killed in my own driveway by Tampa Bay Police .I never got out the car ,nor did I ever shoot at them.The police’s opened fire killing me while another Officer in a Black car Rams into my car . Then another group of Officers came from the back and continued to unload rounds into my lifeless Body .I pray I get the Justice i Deserve🙏🏽 #JusticeforJonasJoseph #blacklivesmatter #stopkillingus #tampabaynews #tampabay #Justice

Posted by Justice For Jonas on Thursday, May 21, 2020

“What I can tell you is there is a witness that came forward that clearly indicated there was no possible way that Mr. Joseph ever fired at the officers, nor did he have the opportunity to react,” said Pastor Carl Soto, vice president of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk, Inc. “What the witness explained to me was that multiple units from the Tampa Police Department pulled up behind Mr. Joseph’s vehicle and within a matter of under a minute, shots were being fired into the car.

“When I asked this witness, ‘How many times did they shoot?’ he told me he couldn’t count it was so many and so many different officers. He’s indicated that there’s no possible way that Jonas had the opportunity to fire upon their officers like Chief (Brian) Dugan once said, or attempt to run over or flee from their officers like Chief Dugan once said,” Soto said.

Soto said he too has called the Tampa Police Department and questioned the lack of information provided to the family and requested all video footage captured that night. The pastor said a sergeant who is part of the internal investigation told him that “the cameras were not working on the night Mr. Joseph was killed.”

The pastor called that “a blatant lie."

Records show Joseph had been arrested several times from 2012 to January on charges ranging from armed robbery to grand theft to illegal possession of a firearm as a felon. He was freed from the county jail in February after serving time for disobeying an officer and failing to appear in court.

Police have said it was the “distinctive front black bumper" on Joseph’s car that caught officers’ attention the night of April 28, while Joseph drove on E Palifox Street in Jackson Heights. His car matched the description of a white Impala wanted in an April 23 drive-by shooting in nearby Grant Park that left one woman wounded inside a home.

After the traffic stop and shooting, police said they found a second gun inside the Impala. Police said Joseph lived in Princeton, an unincorporated area in Miami-Dade County. His family said Joseph lived at the home that he pulled into where the shooting took place.

The five officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave while the agency investigates the shooting, which is standard procedure.