tampabay.com

Suit blames deputies for death of grandson

She says two deputies acted recklessly in a 2004 shooting that killed 17-year-old Marquell McCullough.

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published May 19, 2006


TAMPA - The grandmother of a 17-year-old fatally shot by Pinellas County sheriff's deputies during an early-morning traffic stop in 2004 is suing Sheriff Jim Coats, saying his agency used unnecessary force against her grandson.

The civil suit filed in U.S. District Court by Pearlie McCullough, legal guardian of Marquell McCullough, accuses the two deputies who shot her grandson 15 times on May 2, 2004, of violating search and seizure laws.

The suit also states the deputies were reckless and negligent when they discharged their firearms.

Pearlie McCullough is asking for money to pay medical expenses, funeral bills and compensation for the pain and suffering of her family.

Her lawyer, Matthew Farmer, declined to comment. Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The deputies involved in the shooting, David Antolini and Nelson DeLeon, were cleared of wrongdoing by State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

The events leading to the shooting began about 1 a.m., while Antolini and DeLeon were conducting a detail near LaQuinta Inn at 50th Avenue N and 34th Street in St. Petersburg.

The deputies saw two men exchange money in the parking lot but then lost sight of them.

Shortly after, they saw Marquell McCullough standing beside a white pickup truck, talking to a woman in a parking lot. Thinking he was involved in a drug deal, the deputies followed the truck south on 34th Street N.

The State Attorney's investigation later revealed it was a case of mistaken identity and that McCullough probably did not participate in the deal.

The deputies tried to pull over the truck around 38th Avenue N, but it accelerated to about 60 mph. Twenty blocks south, the truck slowed and turned into a parking lot.

The truck struck both patrol cruisers and hit Antolini, who had gotten out of his car. Both deputies fired, and the truck continued west through the parking lot before ending up in a drainage ditch along 34th Street N.

McCullough was pronounced dead at the scene.

The case was complicated when authorities discovered the video cameras mounted in the deputies' patrol cars that would have captured the confrontation weren't working.

Thirty-eight pieces of crack cocaine were found on McCullough but he carried no weapon, authorities said.

The death touched off months of unrest, with members of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement marching at BayWalk and leading a protest that began a night of sporadic violence in Midtown.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.