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Tensions high after Tampa police fatally shoot Tampa Heights teen

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:29 PM

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TAMPA -

Tampa police shot and killed an armed teenager Sunday night in a Tampa Heights apartment complex.

Officers said the youth ran from police up a stairwell then whirled around brandishing a pistol grip, pump-action shotgun before police shot him.

The shooting ignited anger among the apartment complex residents and neighbors, and scores of people milled about Columbus Drive in front of the Central Court Apartments, at 2510 Central Ave., cat-calling police and nearly disrupting a news conference Sunday night.

The teen, identified as Javon Neal, 16, lived in the complex and was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

A man was shot at the complex about 4 p.m. and taken to the hospital, but police were still trying to determine if Neal had any connection to that shooting, McElroy said.

When police got a call of another shooting in progress at 7:21 p.m., two officers with a special unit that focuses on violent offenders responded.

The officers spotted someone who matched the description given in the 911 call and followed him to the south side of the complex, yelling for him to stop, McElroy said. But Neal kept going and ran up the three flights on an outside staircase, stopped on the third-floor landing and began pulling something out of his pant leg, she said.

The officers reached the third floor when Neal turned around, holding the shotgun in his hands.

"There was no doubt he was armed with a very dangerous weapon," McElroy said.

The gunman didn't fire, but police did. Neal was hit at least once, but McElroy didn't know how many shots the officers fired.

McElroy identified the officers as Gregory Pryor, 36, who has been with the department for five years, and Shannon Murphy, 35, a nine-year veteran of the force.

Both have been placed on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is completed, which is standard operating procedure.

Neither officer was injured.

When the officers showed up Sunday evening to investigate the shooting, there was a large birthday party going on in the apartment complex's courtyard, said Robert Fulton, who said he saw Neal get shot and that he knew the teen.

Fulton said the officers fired on the teen too quickly and disputed the police department's account that Neal was armed.

"I saw the young man," Fulton said. "He had a hoodie on, and he reached into his pocket for something, and the police fired."

The officers fired numerous times from about 10 feet away, Fulton said.

"They acted too quickly," he said.

McElroy held a news conference on Columbus Drive, around 8:30 p.m. while police cruisers with lights on lined the brick street from Jefferson Street almost to Central Avenue, splashing the street's modest older homes with blue and red strobes. A crowd gathered behind the news reporters and shouted over McElroy when she gave the police's version of what happened.

"That's a lie," yelled one woman, when McElroy said the teen was armed.

"God saw what happened," another woman shouted, "and I bet he is going to get justice."

By 10 p.m., the crowd had begun to disperse, and police began pulling down the yellow crime scene tape.

But the issue is not over, said Ali Muhammad, with the New Black Panther Party. He called for a rally in front of police headquarters in Tampa this morning, protesting police violence and excessive use of force.

Sunday night, Muhammad urged peace on Columbus Avenue.

"We are offering support for the community, and to make sure everything stays calm, cool and collected," he said. "There are a lot of people out here who are outraged about this."

McElroy said the shooting was not racial, that officers were doing their jobs in detaining a suspect in a shooting. Neal is black and McElroy said one of the officers is black.

"Race did not play into the equation," she said.


kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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