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Jury rules for city in TyRon Lewis lawsuit

Lewis's family sought $1.6-million in a wrongful death case against St. Petersburg.

Times staff, wire services
Published May 14, 2004

A Pinellas County jury ruled in favor of the city of St. Petersburg this afternoon in the civil lawsuit filed by the family of TyRon Lewis, who was killed by a police officer in 1996. Lewis' death sparked two nights of violence.

The jury of three men and three women deliberated one hour, 15 minutes. The Lewis family, which had sought $1.6-million, alleged that officer James Knight negligently fired his gun when he shot and killed Lewis, who was 18.

Lawyers for the city argued that Knight was doing his job when he pulled Lewis over for speeding at 18th Avenue S and 16th Street on Oct. 24, 1996. Knight shot Lewis three times after Lewis refused to get out of his car.

The city argued that the family deserved no money because Lewis was threatening an officer's life when he was shot.

Lewis family attorney Jean A. Laws Scott said Knight unnecessarily and unreasonably fired his gun.

The six-member jury, which has been hearing the case since Monday, was made up of five whites and one black. The verdict was unanimous.

"I want TyRon back," said Lewis' mother, Pamela, as she left the courthouse surrounded by family members. She would not say whether they planned an appeal.

St. Petersburg police officials said they are not anticipating any violence in the city as a result of the verdict, but are prepared if any problems arise.

"Our intent tonight is not to necessarily deal with this issue through a show of force," said Major Tim Story. "It's business as usual."

The black socialist People's Democratic Uhuru Movement had been pushing the city for a settlement, saying that was the only way to prevent further unrest like the violence that occurred here Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Several businesses were looted and burned and a police officer was the target of gunfire. The officer was not hit.

Parts of St. Petersburg in the Midtown area endured sporadic violence Wednesday night. Police increased patrols Thursday night.

"No justice, no peace," Uhuru member Sateesh Rogers said after the verdict.

Lewis' death touched off riots in 1996.

Officer Knight said he fired three shots at Lewis after Lewis locked the car's doors, refused to come out and lurched the car at him several times, eventually knocking him onto the hood. Lewis had a felony warrant out against him and cocaine in his pocket.

"This kid did not deserve to end up dead due to a traffic stop," family attorney Scott said.

Knight was cleared by a grand jury and the Justice Department of wrongdoing.

The family wanted $950,000 of the $1.6-million to be awarded to 9-year-old Tyron Lewis II, who was 17 months old when his father was killed. Lewis never met his son. The remainder would go to mother Pamela Lewis and father Joe Hawkins.

Knight "had every right to use deadly force" when Lewis used the car he was driving to threaten the officer, assistant city attorney William Drake said.

Drake told jurors that some members of Lewis' family deserved no money because there was no relationship between TyRon Lewis and either his father or his son.

"The family wasn't there for this young man," Drake said. "They weren't there for him, but they are here asking for money."

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