ST. PETERSBURG — A police officer was shot and wounded Wednesday while trying to capture a man wanted on a child abuse charge in a harrowing confrontation that unfolded outside a grocery store that has already been the scene of two other fatal shootings this year.
Dominique Harris, 20, was killed in the ensuing gun battle, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a nighttime news conference.
Harris was trying to ram a car past a blockade of police vehicles, the sheriff said, when he stuck a semiautomatic pistol outside the driver’s side window and fired several times at an officer just 2-to-3 feet away from him. The officer was struck in the lower torso.
“I would almost call it point-blank range,” Gualtieri said. “He is very fortunate and we’re all very fortunate that it wasn’t worse, that he wasn’t shot in a more vulnerable location.”
A group of officers fired more than a dozen times in response, the sheriff said, striking Harris multiple times. A video posted to Facebook appears to capture the moment when the shooting starts. (Warning: This video contains graphic language and gunfire. The footage was not recorded by the Tampa Bay Times.)
Paramedics treated Harris at the scene, but he later died at the hospital. The incident took place about 4:17 p.m., but the sheriff did not say when Harris was pronounced dead.
The wounded officer was pulled to safety by another officer. He underwent surgery at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg hospital and was in stable condition, the sheriff said. The officer asked that his name not be released until all of his family members had been told of his injury. Another officer injured her knee and may have suffered a concussion. She was treated at the hospital and later released.
Harris’ family and friends spent three hours waiting outside Bayfront waiting for word of his condition. They had not been told when Gualtieri announced the news after 8 p.m. Then news of his death spread through the crowd. It was greeted by desperate wails, people collapsing into sobs on the ground and others embracing while they wept.
Wednesday’s shootout was the latest incident of gun violence that has marred the city in recent weeks. In November there were seven shooting incidents that left three people dead and injured seven.
City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders, who visited the scene soon after the shooting, noted that the violence comes as the community is already dealing with the loss of jobs and income in the wake of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“Right now our community is facing more despair than we ever have,” she said.
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Harris has been wanted on a charge of child abuse since October, Gualtieri said. He’s accused of body-slamming a 15-year-old at a park.
A squad of plainclothes St. Petersburg detectives police tracked him to the 18th Avenue S area on Wednesday. He parked in front of the Food Max grocery store at 1400 18th Ave. S. His brother went inside. The detectives called in uniformed officers to approach Harris.
They blocked his car in and questioned him, the sheriff said. Harris produced identification that confirmed his identity. But he wouldn’t get out of the car.
“He rolled the window up on the car and refused their commands to get out,” Gualtieri said.
The officers tried to break one of the car’s windows. Harris put his car in reverse and rammed the cruiser parked behind him, the sheriff said, then accelerated forward and struck a concrete pole in the parking lot as he attempted what Gualtieri called a “3-point turn” to escape.
The plainclothes detectives started driving in to help. Harris rammed another police vehicle, and that officer accelerated forward to keep him pinned in. Two police vehicles tried to box in Harris on the driver and passenger sides.
The officer on Harris’ driver’s side got out of his car, the sheriff said — and was shot by Harris.
The Facebook video shows several plainclothes officers shooting at a vehicle that appears to be blocked in by other vehicles. One officer can be seen firing while standing on top of the hood of a black pick-up. Gualtieri said five to six officers fired their weapons during the incident. Their names were not released.
“That car looked like Swiss cheese” Latonya Lemon, 51, who lives on 14th Street S, told the Times after the shooting.
The shooting is being investigated by the sheriff and the Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Investigative Task Force, which was formed this summer by Pinellas agencies to investigate the use of deadly force by officers. In the past, law enforcement agencies investigated their own officers.
The officers have likely been placed on administrative leave, which is routine in police shootings. St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway did not address the media after Wednesday’s shooting or the sheriff’s news conference.
Mayor Rick Kriseman briefly visited the wounded officer at the hospital.
”His thoughts and his prayers today are with the officer and his family,” said mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby.
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Before they learned of Harris’ death, family and friends gathered at a hospital entrance, away from the officers who had come to visit the wounded officer.
Some cried and leaned on each other for support. They waited silently with hands to mouths outside the emergency room.
Patricia Reynolds said she was waiting to find out what happened to Harris, her grandson. But she wasn’t allowed in the hospital. She said he had just left their home in her car. Then she got a call saying he was in the hospital.
“All I know is my car is shot up,” she said.
Gerald Smith, 38, said he raised Harris since his birth. He called him a quiet kid.
He said the video of the shooting was already being shared across the community. While they waited outside the hospital, he complained that no one was talking about what happened to Harris.
“People just don’t know how often this happens,” he said. “An officer got shot, that’s all they have to say.”
The video appears to have been filmed from inside the Food Max. Bystanders took shelter inside the store during the shooting.
“There were kids in that store and everything ...,” said Brittani Campbell, 22, who lives a few houses from the shooting scene.
“They’re gonna traumatize a kid who probably won’t even want to go to school tomorrow. They’ll probably be scared to go back in a store.”
This latest shooting comes after a gruesome month for gun violence in St. Petersburg. In November there were seven shooting incidents that left three people dead and injured seven.
The Food Max parking lot there has been the site of two fatal shootings. A Sept. 19 shooting left 38-year-old Bernard Nixon dead and another man critically hurt.
More recently on Nov. 14, 26-year-old Deauntazies Ramsey was fatally shot in the parking lot of the grocery store. Police made arrests in both shootings.
The day after Ramsey was killed, another shooting took place just a few blocks away from the Food Max at a plaza on 16th Street S that has become a site for late-night parties. Arnieceia Milton, a 23-year-old mother of two, was killed in that shooting.
The recent gun violence in the city spurred City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman to organize an “Enough is Enough” rally on Saturday to address the recent issues facing the community. It’s scheduled to start at 12 p.m. at the corner of 34 Street S and 18th Avenue S, just a short distance from the shooting scene.
Harris was arrested twice in 2019, on charges of burglary and fleeing and eluding an officer, according to records. In the October 2019 incident, the arrest report said he fled when a St. Petersburg officer tried to pull him over. Harris sped away in his grandmother’s car, drove through stop signs, then tried to run away before a police dog captured him.
He told an officer that he knew his license had been suspended and feared an arrest would violate his probation, the report said. In December 2019 he pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced as a youthful offender.
After his news conference, Gualtieri went to the hospital to speak to Harris’ family.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson spoke to the family before they left the hospital.
“What do you say to a mom who loses a boy except I’m sorry?” he said.
Times staff writer Chris Tisch contributed to this report.