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Who's to blame in officer's death?

Published January 18, 2006

TAMPA - Did Tampa police officers make mistakes the day that one of their own was shot to death in a parking lot while in pursuit of a bank robber?

That's the question at the heart of a trial that began Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The family of Lois Marrero, who died at age 40 after spending nearly half her life on the force, says the department was negligent by failing to take safety measures, like providing backup and establishing a police perimeter around the bank robbery suspect on July 6, 2001.

"Unfortunately, she didn't get that assistance, and she paid with her life," said Tampa attorney Richard Hirsch, who is representing Marrero's sister, Brenda Marrero, and parents Maria and William Marrero, in a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against the city of Tampa.

The city says its officers acted properly that day while investigating the bank robbery, and the sole responsibility for Marrero's death lies with the man who pulled the trigger, Nestor DeJesus, who committed suicide the same day.

"Nestor DeJesus is the only reason she is dead, and it's not the fault of the city of Tampa," said Assistant City Attorney Ursula Richardson.

The trial is expected to last through next week.

The Marreros' attorney outlined Tuesday all the ways they think the Tampa officers erred that day as they investigated a bank robbery that occurred at a South Tampa Bank of America.

The Marreros plan to use an outside expert who will say that once police located what they thought was the yellow SUV involved in the bank robbery at an apartment complex, they should have called for more officers to circle the complex.

They also plan to point the blame at police supervisors who, Marrero's family says, should have ordered Marrero not to chase the suspect and to wait for backup.

"A supervisor should have taken control of that scene and alerted her of the danger," Hirsch said.

Finally, they're going to talk about the helicopter participating in the search that July day.

Tampa pilot J.T. Martin was dispatched in his helicopter, going up without an extra person acting as a helper. Hirsch said Martin didn't take additional staff because they were set to attend a birthday party. Hirsch accused the department of failing to provide an extra set of eyes from above, which might have alerted Marrero to DeJesus' whereabouts, when she lost sight of him, just before he killed her.

Richardson said it was the pilot's choice not to take an additional person, and that he is experienced in this line of work.

At the time the force didn't have a clear policy on how many officers should be in a helicopter, although a month later a new policy required pilots to have observers.

While heralding Marrero as a good officer, Richardson added that officers are not expected to be "perfect." She said that Marrero, acting on survival instinct, may not have been thinking clearly and calmly.

DeJesus' girlfriend and accomplice in the murder and bank robbery, Paula Gutierrez, is serving a life sentence in state prison.

[Last modified January 18, 2006, 01:10:21]

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