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Community questions shooting of 16-year-old by Tampa police officers

Published Jul. 24, 2012

TAMPA — Sixteen-year-old Javon Neal pulled a shotgun on two officers Sunday evening, so police said the officers had no choice but to fire their guns.

At least one bullet hit Javon. He died at the hospital.

Some of Javon's family members and others at Central Court Apartments said Monday they don't believe the Police Department's account. Some said they heard Javon had raised his hands in surrender. Others question how the teen could have been aiming the gun at police if he was shot on the third story of a stairwell and the gun was later recovered on the ground below.

And at the center of the standoff is a police officer who had shot before.

Officer Gregory Pryor, 36, fatally shot a robbery suspect last August.

Pryor thought the man was armed. He wasn't.

Kethessa Fordoms says she had warned her son Javon to stay inside their apartment. She had heard gunshots and feared for his safety.

But Javon left anyway. He was running around the complex, at 2510 Central Ave., with two friends, Fordoms said.

Moments later, her 12-year-old son ran into the apartment and yelled. Javon had been shot by police.

"They killed him," Fordoms said Monday through tears. "He's just a 16-year-old kid."

Police said Javon was shot because he pulled a pistol-grip shotgun on them at the complex. The officers feared for their lives, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

It started about 7:30 p.m., when officers went to the apartment complex to investigate a 911 call about a weapon being fired in the street.

When officers arrived, they spotted a young man matching the suspect's description.

Tampa police identified him as Javon, a resident of the complex.

As two officers approached, police said, they ordered Javon to stop, but he began running up the outdoor staircase at the complex's south end.

As he ran, police said, the officers could see him pull something out of his pant leg. They told him to show his hands, but he didn't, police said.

An uninvolved man on the staircase lifted his arms, which McElroy said might explain the rumors of a man surrendering. But police said Javon never did.

Instead, when he reached the third floor, Javon turned toward the officers and held the shotgun at chest level, McElroy said.

The officers ordered him to drop it and fired when he didn't.

Javon's shotgun fell over the 48-inch-high stair rail, landing on the ground below, police said.

Paramedics took Javon to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he died.

"The crux of the tragedy," McElroy said, "is that a 16-year-old was armed with such a dangerous weapon."

Police did not disclose how many times the officers shot at Javon or where he was hit.

Police identified the officers as Pryor and Shannon Murphy, 35. Pryor has been with Tampa police for five years, Murphy for nine.

As is standard in officer-involved shootings, they will be placed on paid administrative leave while police investigate.

Sunday wasn't the first time Pryor has shot at a suspect.

On Aug. 24, he fired his gun at a 26-year-old Tampa man, Carlos Roberto Laboy.

Officers were trying to arrest Laboy on a robbery charge, and say that when Laboy came out of his house, he crouched down and made a sudden move for his waistband with both hands, ignoring officers' instructions to freeze.

Believing Laboy had a gun, Pryor fired his weapon, police said, and the bullet hit Laboy in the hip. Laboy died. Police later discovered he was unarmed.

According to police records, the Aug. 24 incident was the first time Pryor fired his weapon on duty. Previously, he had been praised by supervisors for displaying "good judgment while also trying to ensure his safety and that of others."

Two weeks after the August shooting, the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office declared Pryor's actions justified.

Pryor works on the Rapid Offender Control squad, a plainclothes squad formed in 2009 that focuses attention on high-crime areas.

Murphy also is assigned to the Rapid Offender Control squad.

Police say they know the Central Court Apartments well. In 2010, they responded to 353 calls for service, and in 2011 they responded 255 times.

So far this year, police have received 210 calls for service, many of them regarding allegations of domestic battery, loud music and, occasionally, drugs.

On Monday, candles and stuffed animals marked the stairwell where Javon had been shot.

Javon has no arrest history, according to state records and police, but several calls for service in recent years have involved him. In 2009 and again in 2011, police received reports of fist fights. In one, Javon was not the instigator. In the other, it's unclear. Neither fight involved weapons.

At the Tampa Police Department's District 3 office, 3808 N 22nd St., a handful of people gathered Monday to protest Javon's shooting. The men and women carried posters that read "stop intimidating our community" and "TPD still killing us."

Michelle Williams, chief of staff at the New Black Panther Party, said she wants to view the video surveillance at the apartment complex.

She said "things don't make sense" because the weapon was found at the stairwell, but Javon was shot on the third floor.

Police are reviewing the video.

McElroy also said police gathered witness statements Sunday night, and they matched the officers' statements.

She said that if anyone else witnessed the shooting and has not yet come forward to make a sworn statement, they should do so. Police can be reached at (813) 231-6130.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727)893-8713 or lmorel@tampabay.com. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

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