A fatal shooting in a busy Clearwater Beach surf shop began with a punch and escalated into gunshots, police said.
Rodney Sweeney, 22, punched a man on the second floor of the Surf Style shop on Tuesday and, in retaliation, 20-year-old Johnathan Stanley pulled out a gun and shot Sweeney multiple times, Clearwater police Chief Daniel Slaughter said at a news conference Thursday.
“So this battery occurred, but this battery is no excuse for pulling out a firearm and doing the behavior Johnathan did, and based on some of his movements prior to the battery occurring, it appears very likely he intended to utilize that firearm from the get-go,” Slaughter said.
Police also arrested a man who they say helped Stanley try to evade arrest, Slaughter said.
Police announced Wednesday evening that Stanley, who lives in Clearwater, had been identified as the suspect in the shooting and was wanted on a second-degree murder charge. Less than an hour later, police reported Stanley had been arrested at the Clearwater Mall.
Slaughter and an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Pinellas County provided more details about what led to the shooting and how the investigation unfolded.
Slaughter said that Stanley and Sweeney, who lived in Largo, did not appear to know each other and might have exchanged words earlier in the day.
“There was some type of verbal contact that may have occurred throughout the day that we’re still getting to the bottom of,” Slaughter said.
The groups ended up on the second floor of the Surf Style at 315 S Gulfview Blvd. around 8 p.m. Surveillance cameras captured Sweeney punching a man who was with Stanley. Then, Slaughter said, Stanley pulled out a handgun and fired three times, hitting Sweeney twice.
Stanley then discarded the gun and left the store, Slaughter said.
Sweeney’s half-brother was in the surf shop at the time of the shooting, according to the affidavit. He told detectives that he and Sweeney had been on Clearwater Beach and been “having problems ... all day” with a man they didn’t know. The brother said when he and Sweeney got near the Surf Style shop, that person and another man, later identified as Stanley, called them into the store.
The brother told investigators that Sweeney followed Stanley and the other man to the second floor of the store. The brother said he was walking up the stairs when he heard gunshots. When he got to the top of the stairs, he saw Stanley hiding a handgun under a clothing rack and Sweeney on the ground with gunshot wounds, according to the affidavit.
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Sweeney’s brother picked up the gun and ran after Stanley to find him. The brother eventually went home with the gun and later turned it over to detectives, Slaughter said.
Detectives released surveillance photos from the shooting on the agency’s social media accounts. A person called the police and said he recognized one person as “Johnathan,” and that he went to Clearwater High School from 2020 to 2021, the affidavit said. Detectives spoke with the school’s resource officer, who provided the name of Johnathan Stanley.
The person who was with Stanley at the time of the shooting, and who Sweeney punched, identified Stanley by his driver’s license photo.
Zayah Massucci, 19, helped Stanley escape the area, Slaughter said. Stanley stayed at Massucci’s home overnight. Stanley gave Massucci car keys to his vehicle, still parked on Clearwater Beach, and Massucci went to get it, Slaughter said.
A Clearwater police analyst tracked Stanley’s car, and police followed Massucci back to his home. In an interview with police, Massucci told them he was aware of the shooting on Tuesday and he intentionally helped Stanley escape, Slaughter said. Massucci works at a restaurant on Clearwater Beach, according to an arrest affidavit.
Massucci, of Clearwater, was arrested on charges of being an accessory after the fact and marijuana possession. He was released Thursday after posting $5,150 bail, records show.
Stanley was taken into custody at Clearwater Mall Wednesday night. Records show he was being held Thursday in the Pinellas County Jail, with bond set at $750,000.
No one else has been arrested in connection to the incident, according to Slaughter.
Slaughter also provided more details about a shooting incident that happened Sunday on the same block as the Surf Style shop, near the McDonald’s at around 8 p.m. A police spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that a group of juveniles got into a fight and someone pulled out a gun and fired a shot into the ground.
Slaughter said Thursday that two groups who knew each other and had “some history” unexpectedly ran into one another and got into a fight. Video surveillance showed a person stomped on the head of another person, causing minor injuries, Slaughter said. He said detectives were working to identify subjects in the incident.
Slaughter acknowledged people may be questioning their safety after two incidents that happened in busy areas of the popular tourist destination. He called the shootings isolated incidents and said when crime does happen, his department has the personnel and technology to quickly identify and arrest suspects. In the Surf Style shooting, he said, detectives used a network of video cameras, license plate reader technology and crime analysts to identify and apprehend Stanley.
Slaughter said department data shows crime on Clearwater Beach this year is trending down compared to 2022 but that this week, with all the local schools out for spring break and an influx of tourists hitting the beach, “is always the hardest week for us.”
“Safety is a perception, but also that perception is a reality,” Slaughter said. “They are still very isolated, rare events on Clearwater Beach.”