1. News

Tarpon Springs officer's death lingers for night-shift colleagues

Published Mar. 1, 2015


It was past midnight when Officer Christopher Lemmon responded to a noise complaint, everything dark and silent around him except for the glow of his laptop and the chatter on his radio.

He parked in front of the two-story house on Briland Street. Officer Tommy Nguyen, with the canine unit, was already there.

Together, they approached the front door.

More than two months ago, the officers lost one of their own, in a similar call: While checking on a report of a loud car stereo, Charles Kondek, a married father of six, was fatally shot by a convicted felon who police say didn't want to go back to prison.

As the department of nearly 50 officers moves forward while preserving Kondek's memory, they are reminded of one of the biggest lessons in law enforcement.

"You never know," Lemmon said, "what you're going to encounter."

• • •

Every night from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., about six officers patrol the 16 square miles of Tarpon Springs. Unlike the department's morning and evening shifts, where officers are busy responding to calls, the midnight officers also focus on monitoring the streets for anything suspicious.

"It's pretty much proactive policing," Lemmon said.

Every night, an officer is assigned to each of the city's three zones while other officers travel throughout the area, assisting with calls, which typically include drug possession and drunken driving arrests, as well as domestic disputes triggered by alcohol consumption.

They also assist with the agency's Night Eyes program: officers visit closed businesses for any signs of a break-in and then leave a card on the door, letting owners know they were there.

Many car burglaries also occur at night. On a recent Sunday, Lemmon drove slowly through residential streets with his windows down.

Later that night, he pulled over a white Toyota near Grosse Avenue, known for crack cocaine sales. The driver of the vehicle was operating the car without headlights. Lemmon shined a light on the driver's side mirror and walked toward it with a flashlight while ordering the driver and passengers to lower their windows.

Lemmon started conducting traffic stops like this when, early on in his career, he discovered two guns, one of them stolen, in the back seat of another car.

"That's the most dangerous part of police work. You never know who you are interacting with," he said. "All that mantra that basically you never know what's going to happen is ingrained in us."

Two other officers arrived moments later. Before Kondek was killed, at least two typically responded to calls. Now, Lemmon said they feel more of an urgency to back up officers.

"We're careful for any and every call," Nguyen said.

• • •

Nguyen was working Dec. 21 when the noise complaint at Glen's Eureka apartments came in. He was among three officers, including Kondek, headed to that call when they received reports about a fight.

Kondek said he would handle the noise complaint and meet them later at the other call. But moments later, Nguyen heard Kondek on the police radio saying that he needed another officer. They would later find him on the ground, a fatal gunshot just above his bullet-resistant vest.

"All I wanted to do was go home," Nguyen said, "and give my wife and my kids a hug."

Traces of Kondek's death remain at the department. His photo is tacked onto a bulletin board in the lobby. Many of the officers, including Chief Robert Kochen, wear wristbands with his name. His mailbox sits intact, a stack of papers still tucked inside it. His name was inscribed on a memorial in front of the department.

Kochen said the agency is also in the process of adding Kondek's name to the public safety building.

"He's a hero," he said. "You can never forget the sacrifice that law enforcement officers make."

Several officers have also gotten tattoos in Kondek's memory. Inked on Nguyen's left arm is a sword-wielding warrior with his officer number, 285. Lemmon also had the number tattooed to his chest, along with a badge and Kondek's "end of watch" date, Dec. 21.

"We don't want this to happen again," Lemmon said. "I don't ever want to have to get another tattoo."

Contact Laura C. Morel at or (727)445-4157. Follow @lauracmorel.


  1. In body camera video released by police, two officers search the home from the outside with flashlights before one shouts, "Put your hands up, show me your hands." One shot is then fired through a window. Photo from video/Associated Press
    The shooting occurred after a neighbor called the police non-emergency line to report that the front door to the home was open.
  2. In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, residents welcome Syrian soldiers shortly after they entered the northern town of Tal Tamr on Monday, Oct 14, 2019. The move toward Tal Tamr came a day after Syria's Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed to help them fend off Turkey's invasion — a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos. AP
    The announcement of a deal between Syria’s Kurds and its government is a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S.
  3. Alachua County school superintendent Karen Clarke welcomes the crowd at a "listening session" Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 to discuss changes in the Florida's education standards. A similar session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jefferson High, 4401 W Cypress St. in Tampa. The Florida Channel
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  4. Tampa City Council members don't agree on much when it comes to the city's eight Community Redevelopment Areas. CHARLIE FRAGO  |  Charlie Frago
    Some City Council members say the popular redevelopment tools are unfair to other neighborhoods.
  5. Central High School student Samantha Lewis, 17, shows her Angus Cross heffer Annabell, 1, Saturday morning during the Open Beef Show at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show at the fairgrounds. The fair and livestock show will run through April 16. For more information, call 352-796-4552 or visit HERNANDO TODAY PHOTO BY HAYLEY M  |  Hernando Today
    Hernando County Fair Association plans meet with skepticism from county commissioners and Brooksville City Council members.
  6. The graves of Caroline and Thomas Hicks are among nine found to have been moved out of the long-forgotten Zion Cemetery along North Florida Avenue. They were reburied in Memorial Park, believed to be the second African-American cemetery in Tampa. JAMES BORCHUCK  |
    The story of the pioneer Tampa family might help explain the disappearance of the place where some 800 African-Americans were buried.
  7. Pasco County Property Appraiser Gary Joiner (left) and County Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. (R) are both Republicans running for Pasco Property Appraiser in 2020. Handout photo
    State law requires him to resign effective November 2020, opening up an election for the District 4 Pasco County Commission seat.
  8. Families enjoy carnival rides at the 2018 Rattlesnake Festival at the Pasco County Fairgrounds. The festival returns Oct. 18-20, kicking off with a concert featuring the Bellamy Brothers on Friday and food, entertainment and educational activities throughout the weekend. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Musicals, art exhibits and other things to do in Pasco and Hernando counties
  9. Festival goers move through the midway during the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church's annual Ethnic Festival. This year's festival will be Oct. 17-20 at the church on Spring Hill Drive at Coronado Drive. Tampa Bay Times | 2010
    The 28th-annual Ethnic Festival returns to St. Joan of Arc.
  10. Legislative delegation meeting allows lawmakers to hear requests from local elected officials and civic organizations