St. Petersburg officer in fateful 1996 shooting faces DUI

Published April 29, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — A police officer who shot and killed a teenager during a 1996 traffic stop, triggering two days of racial disturbances, was arrested late Saturday on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge.

James K. Knight, 51, a St. Petersburg officer, was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office just after 11 p.m. near First Avenue and 58th Street S. He was stopped for poor driving and failing to maintain a lane, said sheriff's Sgt. David DiSano.

Knight did not satisfactorily complete a roadside sobriety test and had bloodshot eyes, DiSano said. Two breath tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.143 and 0.140 percent. The state considers a driver impaired at 0.08 percent.

He was booked early Sunday at the Pinellas County Jail, then released on his own recognizance, records show.

St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said Knight has been with the department since July 1988.

"The matter will be investigated by our internal affairs unit and he'll be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome," Puetz said Sunday.

During an October 1996 traffic stop at 16th Street S and 18th Avenue, Officer Knight fired shots that killed TyRon Lewis, 18.

The shooting of the black motorist by the white officer sparked two days of disturbances that included gunfire and burned buildings. About a month after the shooting, a grand jury cleared Knight, saying he had acted in the line of duty.

Knight and his partner had stopped the car because it was speeding. The panel found that Lewis refused orders to get out of the car and instead moved it toward Officer Knight, running into him several times before the officer fired.