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Judge dismisses suit from police shooting


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000

TAMPA -- A federal judge has dismissed the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the survivors of TyRon Lewis, the man whose 1996 fatal shooting by a police officer sparked violent disturbances in St. Petersburg.

Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich found that allegations of excessive force, negligent training and civil-rights violations against the the city of St. Petersburg were too thin to warrant a trial. City officials had denied wrongdoing.

The lawsuit had been filed by Lewis' mother, Pamela Lewis, on behalf of her late son's estate. TyRon Lewis is also survived by his father, Joe Hawkins, and a son, Aaron M. White.

Lewis was killed Oct. 24, 1996, when St. Petersburg police Officer James Knight fired through the windshield of Lewis' car. Knight said Lewis was trying to run him over, despite an order to stop.

Pamela Lewis filed a federal lawsuit in 1997, and later withdrew it. Her lawsuit was refiled in state court, and the city obtained a transfer of the case to federal court early this year. In her dismissal order, Judge Kovachevich wrote that the lawsuit had been pending, in some fashion, for three years, and that adequate time had elapsed to establish the facts.

The judge's order noted there was a lack of evidence that Knight and other officers had been negligent. She also revisited the legal immunities granted by the courts to police officers.

"On a daily basis, law enforcement officers encounter situations that require split-second decisions to be made," Kovachevich wrote. " . . . A law enforcement officer's decision to use deadly force . . . is a discretionary decision that rests at the very heart of an officer's ability to protect all members of society, including himself and other officers."

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