The Other McCain

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Lawsuit Blames Sheriff for ‘Devaluation of African-American Life in Pinellas County’

Posted on | November 26, 2018 | Comments Off on Lawsuit Blames Sheriff for ‘Devaluation of African-American Life in Pinellas County’


In March 2016, three teenage car thieves stole Damian Marriott’s 1998 Honda Accord and went joy-riding around Pinellas County, Florida. Their crime spree ended shortly before dawn, when they drove the car into a pond in Royal Palm Cemetery in St. Petersburg:

After trying twice that evening to stop the Honda, deputies followed the vehicle as it turned into the cemetery and drove into the pond at about 4 a.m. Deputies went into the pond after the sinking car, but abandoned their efforts because of the muddy water and excessive plant growth. After the four-door sedan was towed out of the pond hours later, investigators determined the girls drowned. . . .
Following the tragedy Sheriff Bob Gualtieri pointed out the teen’ criminal histories, which included seven arrests among them for grand theft auto in the last year.

The deaths of these young criminals prompted a lawsuit:

A lawsuit lodged against law enforcement by the mothers of three teenage girls, who drowned after the stolen car they were driving plunged into a cemetery pond, saw a major shake-up when two of the mothers backed out of the case.
Ciara Butler and Natasha Winkler dismissed their claims last month, according to court records. The remaining mother appears to be pressing forward without a lawyer, seeking damages for what the complaint says were discriminatory and negligent actions that led to the deaths of Dominique Battle, 16, and Ashaunti Butler and LaNiya Miller, both 15.
The flurry of court filings show a tense back-and-forth between the plaintiffs, who were represented by Clearwater civil rights attorney Michele Rayner, and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. . . .
Rayner declined to comment, saying it would be “wholly inappropriate” for her to talk to a reporter while the suit is ongoing. Butler and Winkler, the mothers of Ashaunti and LaNiya, could not be reached for comment.
Yashica Clemmons, the mother of Dominique, could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts and a visit to her home, nor could a lawyer who represented her in the aftermath of the March 2016 crash. The lawyer, Aaron O’Neal, worked with Clemmons, who later adopted the name Kunde Mwamvita, through the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. The community group rallied around the families after the crash and contend police killed the girls because they were black.
The crash became a contentious flash point in a long line of deadly Pinellas car thefts perpetuated by teenagers. The Tampa Bay Times published a series about the epidemic last year that showed teens steal cars in Pinellas more than anywhere in the state.
Just this week, 18-year-old Damari Milton lost control of a stolen Mazda Miata and hit a tree at 38th Avenue N and 49th Street. The car burst into flames, killing Milton and his 16-year-old passenger, Dequante Lightsey.
The lawsuit, filed in June in federal court, claims that deputies chased the three girls into the cemetery, then didn’t try to help them as the stolen Honda Accord disappeared into the muck. It goes on to allege the Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly engaged in unconstitutional behavior and discriminatory actions due to a lack of training and discipline.
“The wrongful deaths … were directly and proximately caused by the failures, negligence, and carelessness of” the county and the sheriff, the lawsuit says, “because it produced or contributed to deputies’ devaluation of African-American life in Pinellas County.”

Who’s actually devaluing life here? Isn’t it the parents of these adolescent criminals, who failed to teach their children not to steal cars?

How hard is it to say, “Hey, kids, grand theft auto is wrong”? That’s not really too much work to expect parenting-wise, is it? But it seems many parents in Pinellas County can’t be bothered:

Two teens died when the stolen car they were driving hit a tree and erupted in flames early Monday [Nov. 19], police said, marking the tenth and eleventh deaths connected to Pinellas County’s juvenile auto theft epidemic in little more than three years.
Damari Milton, 18, was driving and Dequante Lightsey, 16, was a passenger, police said. The 2016 Mazda Miata swerved at 38th Avenue N and 49th Street about 3:30 a.m., colliding with a tree. Investigators say Milton was speeding. Authorities initially reported that both boys’ bodies were burned beyond recognition. . . .
Both Milton and Lightsey had been accused of grand theft auto before, according to state criminal records. Milton had also faced other charges, dating to 2015 and including weapon possession and burglary. Lightsey, records show, had likewise been accused of burglary and larceny. . . .
Statistics in St. Petersburg show officers have logged 636 reports of auto thefts to date in 2018, down from 804 this time last year. . . .
Milton, who turned 18 on Aug. 30 . . . was arrested Nov. 12, 2015, accused of stealing a car from his mother. He picked up his girlfriend, 15 at the time just like him, according to a police report, and drove a 2007 Dodge Nitro into a tree.
She suffered “significant injuries to her face.”
He ran away. . . .
A Facebook page that appears to belong to him on Monday featured a photo of Milton reclined on a bed holding what looked like three guns.
At his feet lay a pile of car keys

Hey, Pinellas County parents, if your kid dies in a crash while driving a stolen car, don’t blame the sheriff. That’s on you.

(Hat-tip: Kirby McCain on Twitter.)



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