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Judge orders Ybor shooting suspect to stay jailed

The decision came after a lengthy court testimony in which attorneys sparred over claims of self-defense and gangs.
 
Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in a deadly shooting in Ybor City on Oct. 29, is seen as he is brought into the courtroom for a detention hearing at the Hillsborough County criminal courthouse annex, 401 N Jefferson St, Tampa, on Monday.
Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in a deadly shooting in Ybor City on Oct. 29, is seen as he is brought into the courtroom for a detention hearing at the Hillsborough County criminal courthouse annex, 401 N Jefferson St, Tampa, on Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 27, 2023|Updated Nov. 28, 2023

TAMPA — Tyrell Phillips, the man accused of killing a 14-year-old boy during an early-morning shootout last month in Ybor City, will remain jailed while he awaits trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robin Fuson concluded that Phillips posed a danger to the community and there were no release conditions that would ensure the community’s safety.

“The safest place for him and our community is inside the Hillsborough County Jail,” Fuson said.

He also granted a prosecutor’s request that Phillips have no contact with anyone affiliated with two different groups, described in court as rivals, and who are believed to be connected to the shooting. Phillips is believed to be friends with several people in one of the groups. A prosecutor stopped short of calling it a gang.

The judge’s ruling punctuated a nearly three-hour hearing that saw lawyers sparring over Phillips’ claim of self-defense and evidence a prosecutor presented of his involvement in a Town ‘N Country-based rap group.

Assistant State Attorney Justin Diaz, though not calling the group a gang, showed a series of rap videos that the group posted to YouTube. In them, Phillips and other people can be seen holding guns and flashing various hand signs. At least two other people identified in the videos were also present on the night of the shooting. One of them was shot.

The prosecutor also played several videos that bystanders captured, which show the moments immediately before the gunshots were fired. In the videos, Phillips is seen as he’s confronted by a person in a red jacket, who was later identified as the victim, Elijah Wilson.

The teen appears to raise his hands in the air before lowering them. Audio immediately thereafter captured the noise of three gunshots.

“The defendant shoots somebody who at that moment is not an immediate threat,” Diaz said. “He’s just choosing to shoot the guy he doesn’t like.”

The evidence and testimony from witnesses gave the clearest public account to date of what happened that early morning.

 Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in the Ybor City shooting, is escorted out of the courtroom during a break in a detention hearing Monday at the Hillsborough  courthouse annex in Tampa.
Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in the Ybor City shooting, is escorted out of the courtroom during a break in a detention hearing Monday at the Hillsborough courthouse annex in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Gunfire broke out a little before 3 a.m. Oct. 29 along Seventh Avenue, which was crowded with late-night revelers and club patrons.

Tampa police in the area arrived to find the teen lying dead in the street. Family members later publicly identified him as Wilson. A medical examiner testified that Wilson was shot twice, in his leg and through his neck. He died instantly.

A 20-year-old man who was shot later died at a hospital. His family identified him as Harrison Boonstoppel. It’s believed he was a bystander and was not involved in the confrontation that preceded the shooting.

Judge Robin Fuson stands next to the courtroom television screen to get a closer view while watching cellphone video evidence presented by the state during the detention hearing for Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in an Oct. 29 shooting in Ybor City, at the Tampa criminal courthouse annex, 401 N Jefferson St., on Monday in Tampa.
Judge Robin Fuson stands next to the courtroom television screen to get a closer view while watching cellphone video evidence presented by the state during the detention hearing for Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in an Oct. 29 shooting in Ybor City, at the Tampa criminal courthouse annex, 401 N Jefferson St., on Monday in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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A total of 16 others were injured, 15 of them by gunfire, police said.

The spasm of violence spurred public concern over the safety of Ybor City. There have been calls to temper late-night activity there, while business owners and residents fear being pushed out.

Phillips approached police minutes after the shooting and acknowledged his involvement. Some of his first words, a detective acknowledged Monday, were, “I fired in self-defense.”

As Phillips made a phone call to his father and girlfriend later that morning, Tampa police Detective Joshua Kennedy heard him utter: “I was scared,” “It was self-defense,” and “I had to use my gun.”

Police found spent bullet shell casings from three different guns on the ground close to where Wilson fell. Only three were 10 mm, the caliber of the handgun Phillips was carrying.

Elsewhere, police found six .40-caliber casings, and more than a dozen 9 mm casings, indicating that at least two other people fired guns. The bullet that killed Boonstoppel was a 9 mm, Kennedy testified.

Phillips’ lawyer, David Parry, noted that the video shows a group of men making hand gestures as they confront Phillips and his group of friends, who continue to back away.

“At that moment, he believed one of them was reaching for a gun and that’s why he fired,” Parry said.

Phillips is charged with a single count of second-degree murder related to Wilson’s death. He is not accused of shooting anyone else.

Officers took from his front waistband a loaded Glock 10 mm handgun.

Phillips told detectives that he was in Ybor City with friends when he waved to a girl he recognized from school, according to court records. As he did so, several young men he didn’t know approached him in what witnesses described as an aggressive manner.

He said that one person took “a fighting stance,” while another spit on him, a court paper states. A third began to reach toward his waistband, Phillips said, making him believe that person was armed.

Medical examiner Milad Webb shows where the fatal bullet entered the neck of 14-year-old Elijah Wilson during the detention hearing for Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in an Oct. 29 Ybor City shooting, at the Hillsborough County criminal courthouse annex, 401 N. Jefferson St., Tampa, on Monday.
Medical examiner Milad Webb shows where the fatal bullet entered the neck of 14-year-old Elijah Wilson during the detention hearing for Tyrell Phillips, a suspect in an Oct. 29 Ybor City shooting, at the Hillsborough County criminal courthouse annex, 401 N. Jefferson St., Tampa, on Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

As the group yelled at him, he said, he feared for his safety. He pulled his own gun and fired. He denied he aimed toward anyone in particular.

On Wilson’s body, police found a loaded gun, concealed in his waistband. The gun, police noted, was stolen. It was still secured inside a holster.

The gun Phillips carried belonged to him, police and his attorney said.

Detectives analyzed a series of videos that captured the shooting from different angles. They concluded that what they saw in the videos was inconsistent with Phillips’ description of the shooting.

They noted that Wilson held no object of weapon when he raised his hands. He was no more than an arm’s length away from Phillips when he was shot, prosecutors noted.

Earlier this month, police released images of four other people they said were persons of interest. On Nov. 14, police announced they had arrested another 14-year-old boy on firearms charges. But an investigation to identify the other shooters remains ongoing.