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‘Neighborhood watch’ ends in shooting death of homeless St. Petersburg man

Three months later, prosecutors haven’t said yet whether they’ll pursue a murder charge against Robert Deladurantaye, 49.
St. Petersburg police investigate the fatal shooting of a homeless man Oct. 24 in the Greater Grovemont Neighborhood. A man who's part of an informal neighborhood watch effort was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder.
St. Petersburg police investigate the fatal shooting of a homeless man Oct. 24 in the Greater Grovemont Neighborhood. A man who's part of an informal neighborhood watch effort was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder. [ Greater Grovemont Neighborhood ]
Published Jan. 25|Updated Jan. 25

ST. PETERSBURG ― Around 2:45 on the morning of Oct. 24, Robert Deladurantaye tucked a handgun into the waistband of his pants and walked out to make his rounds as part of an informal neighborhood watch group.

Half an hour later, Deladurantaye shot and killed Christopher Estrada, 30, a homeless man who was familiar to people in the neighborhood and who had been taken into custody there before on suspicion of disorderly conduct.

Deladurantaye, 49, was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder in the death. Three months later, the State Attorney’s Office hasn’t said yet whether it will prosecute him.

Deladurantaye has pleaded not guilty. He told police that Estrada surprised him in an alley, rising from a mattress and charging him while cursing and threatening to hurt him, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Robert Deladurantaye, 49, faces a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of a homeless man. Deladurantaye said the man charged at him in an alley near his home.
Robert Deladurantaye, 49, faces a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of a homeless man. Deladurantaye said the man charged at him in an alley near his home. [ Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ]

A nearby video camera captured Deladurantaye’s actions, but not Estrada’s. The recording shows Deladurantaye firing once into an area off-camera. Deladurantaye doesn’t move for about a minute before heading toward his house.

“Call 9-1-1,” he told his fiancee once he was back, according to the affidavit. “I shot Chris.”

The alley, near 46th Avenue N and Haines Road, falls within the Greater Grovemont Neighborhood. For about a year before the shooting, neighbors had said they noticed homeless people dragging mattresses and couches there to set up camp, said Lee Palmer, president of the Greater Grovemont Neighborhood Association.

Police knew about the problem and told people there to call whenever they saw anyone trespassing on their property, Palmer said. Grovemont has no official neighborhood watch group, he said.

Palmer first met Deladurantaye in the weeks before Estrada’s death while Palmer was riding in his golf cart, checking out the alley where the shooting would later occur. Deladurantaye told Palmer he had offered his help to homeless people in the neighborhood but they refused it.

“I guess he couldn’t really help out in that way,” Palmer said. “And then I guess Rob tried to be a little more stern.”

Estrada was cited for disorderly conduct in the neighborhood Sept. 7.

“Christopher was screaming and affecting the peace of nearby neighbors,” the citation said. “Several residents exited their homes and Christopher refused to listen to police.”

Estrada failed to appear in court to face the charge and a warrant for his arrest was issued Oct. 11. He was arrested three days later and released on $1,013 bail.

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Christopher Estrada, 30, was cited for disorderly conduct Sept. 7 in the Grovemont neighborhood. The following month, he was shot to death there.
Christopher Estrada, 30, was cited for disorderly conduct Sept. 7 in the Grovemont neighborhood. The following month, he was shot to death there. [ The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ]

Estrada had been arrested a number of times in Pinellas County on charges that included drug possession, grand theft auto and aggravated assault. The assault charge was later dismissed by prosecutors.

On Gunmemorial.org, a website featuring victims of gun violence, an unnamed person left a comment on Estrada’s memorial page: “misguided but loved our boys,” along with pictures of Estrada holding an infant and a toddler.

More than 90 people died in Pinellas County in 2020 while experiencing homelessness, said Amy Foster, the chief executive officer of the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas. Violence, substance abuse and the elements can be factors in the deaths, Foster said.

The pandemic has aggravated the problem, she said, driving people deeper into mental health problems and increasing the competition for shelters because of social-distancing requirements.

“Having a safe space for people to spend their nights has become more and more challenging,” Foster said.

In an email, Deladurantaye said he would not comment on the shooting before the State Attorney’s Office makes a decision on whether to prosecute him. His attorney, Ricardo Rivera, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

The State Attorney’s Office said Deladurantaye waived his right to a speedy trial so a decision isn’t as urgent as it might be.

“That gives us a little more time to do all the dotting of the i’s and crossing the t’s,” said prosecutor Robert Bruce.

Deladurantaye had no previous criminal arrests in Pinellas County, according to Clerk of Court’s records.

Search warrant affidavits, including interviews with Deladurantaye and his fiancée Nicole Bautista, provide this account of the shooting:

Deladurantaye and Bautista woke around 2:45 a.m. and were in the living room when Deladurantaye decided to walk the neighborhood to “ensure it (was) safe and there were no unwanted subjects in the area.”

Bautista, 42, told police that Deladurantaye and other neighbors had formed a “neighborhood watch type group.”

Deladurantaye said he often patrols the neighborhood, walking or driving and typically armed with a gun. He has a concealed-weapon permit, Bautista said.

The morning of the shooting, Deladurantaye hadn’t seen Estrada in his usual spot, near 46th Avenue North just east of the alley. He said he had looked down the alley but didn’t notice anyone. Then, Estrada yelled at him from the alley, frightening him. Estrada got up from the mattress, told Deladurantaye he would “crush in his chest,” and ran toward him.

Deladurantaye pulled his 9mm Canik handgun from the back of his waistband, chambered a round and fired once, hitting Estrada in the neck, killing him.

Deladurantaye was carrying a cell phone but did not call 911. He walked back to his house and told Bautista to make the call. Bautista told police she had heard a gunshot five to 10 minutes after Deladurantaye left the house. He returned to the alley at 3:15 a.m., and Bautista followed a minute later.

At this time, Deladurantaye made his weapon safe by placing a live round from the chamber back into the spring-loaded magazine and setting the weapon on a rock, the affidavit said.

St. Petersburg police received a call about a shooting victim just after 3 a.m. and found Estrada face-down in the alley.

Bautista told police that in the past, Estrada had made threats to her, Deladurantaye and other neighbors, and that he’d been causing trouble for months. Police had been called to the neighborhood many times, she said.

Police viewed security footage from a business across the street from the alley. It shows someone who appears to be Estrada dragging a mattress down the alley at 3:02 a.m. Only a small portion of the alley is visible in the video.

At around 3:10 a.m., Deladurantaye is seen approaching the entrance to the alley, stopping and interacting with someone out of view. He walks to the intersection of 46th Avenue N and Haines Road N, looks around the alley, then rushes back into the alley and out of sight.

At 3:12 a.m. Deladurantaye is seen walking backwards out of the alley and a flash from a gunshot appears, the affidavit said. He continues backing up, in a shooter’s stance.

Deladurantaye puts his gun in his waistband, looks at his phone until 3:13 a.m., then walks out of view toward his house.

St. Petersburg police arrested Deladurantaye later that day. He was released the next day on $250,000 bail.

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