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Why did Gulfport Police take weeks to arrest Pinellas politician’s son?

Officers say they didn’t know the suspect in a felony battery was related to a county commissioner.
Kyle Harris pulls up a picture taken 18 hours after he was allegedly being punched at a Gulfport bar by Adam Peters, the son of Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters. Harris had to have surgery to repair a broken nose and orbital socket. “I still can’t blow my nose, I can’t feel my teeth,” Harris said.
Kyle Harris pulls up a picture taken 18 hours after he was allegedly being punched at a Gulfport bar by Adam Peters, the son of Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters. Harris had to have surgery to repair a broken nose and orbital socket. “I still can’t blow my nose, I can’t feel my teeth,” Harris said. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jun. 2, 2022|Updated Jun. 5, 2022

At around 1:45 a.m. on April 23, Adam M. Peters allegedly punched someone so hard at a Gulfport bar that the man had to have surgery to repair a broken nose and orbital socket.

That day, Gulfport police issued a probable cause affidavit to arrest Peters, 28, the son of Pinellas County commissioner and former state Rep. Kathleen Peters, on a felony aggravated battery charge.

When one month passed with no arrest, the alleged victim, Kyle Harris, 37, wondered if he’d ever get accountability. Harris, of St. Petersburg, is facing $10,000 in medical bills so far. He said he’s been unable to work his automotive services technician job as he recovers.

Adam Peters eventually was arrested at his St. Petersburg apartment around 8 p.m. on May 23, seven hours after the Tampa Bay Times emailed Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent and investigating officer Cory Smith asking why they had not been able to locate the son of a Pinellas County elected official for 30 days.

Vincent said the department did not know Peters was the son of a county commissioner before the Times’ inquiry.

Adam Peters
Adam Peters [ Pinellas County Sherriff's Office ]

The chief said Smith made five attempts to locate Adam Peters prior to the arrest: once by visiting his apartment the day of the alleged battery, three times by phone in early May and once by asking St. Petersburg Police to visit his home on May 17.

“We don’t care who he’s related to,” said Gulfport Police Cmdr. Joshua Stone. “We want to know the victim in a case gets justice. But it’s not like TV. These things don’t get solved in half an hour.”

At the time of Adam Peters’ arrest, the Gulfport Police Department had one other felony probable cause affidavit that had been open for more than 30 days, according to Vincent.

Prior to her election in 2018 to commission District 6, which represents mid-Pinellas and the southernmost beaches, Kathleen Peters served in the Florida House for six years and as mayor of South Pasadena from 2009 to 2012.

In a text message to the Times, the commissioner said she had no contact with Gulfport police about the incident involving her son. “The insinuation that there was potentially foul play is not only offensive to my family, but to law enforcement,” she said.

Brooke Bennett said she was at O’Maddy’s Bar & Grille near closing time the morning of April 23 when she was chatting with Adam Peters about a teacup chihuahua.

When Peters touched her arm, Bennett said she told him she had a boyfriend. Then Peters began to grab her by the waist, Bennett said. By then her boyfriend, Tyler Jaworski, saw what was happening and walked over.

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Peters and Jaworski began arguing and moved to a sidewalk outside, Bennett said. Harris said he watched Peters’ unwanted advances on Bennett and then his argument with Jaworski, so he decided to try to break up the fight.

Bennett and Jaworski said they saw Peters punch Harris once in the head, sending him to the ground. Surveillance video captured Peters striking Harris with a closed right fist, according to the arrest affidavit.

Harris underwent surgery at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg on his broken nose and had a titanium rod placed in his left orbital socket.

Harris said Smith, the investigating officer, called him the night of April 23. He said they were looking for the suspect and the charge would be felony aggravated battery.

Harris said he called Smith twice over the next two weeks for an update and was baffled about why Adam Peters had not been arrested. In mid-May, Harris said he learned Peters was the son of a county commissioner. It made him wonder whether the relationship had to do with why his case had stalled.

“I feel like it’s an awfully strange coincidence that he’s been given all this accommodation,” he said.

Stone declined to release the case file, citing the open investigation, but said nothing in the records indicates police knew Peters’ relation to a county commissioner. He said Smith was on vacation the week after the incident, which caused an initial delay.

After the Times’ inquiry on May 23, Stone said he spoke with Smith for an update. The officer told him he was planning “to make more steps to locate this person.”

That’s when Smith contacted the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to schedule a meeting to request a warrant for Adam Peters’ arrest, Stone said. The officer also contacted St. Petersburg Police to attempt to locate Peters, he said.

Peters was arrested hours later.