The musicians want reimbursement for their burned studio, but police say residents of the house sold drugs.
By LEANORA MINAI
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Idris "Dreese" Williams said he was downstairs playing video games and listening to music when someone knocked and shouted, "Police! Search warrant!"
He said he was not given enough time to answer the front door.
Within seconds, 10 police officers were inside the house and a "distraction device" was tossed into the dark downstairs room that served as Marcus House Studios.
A fire accidentally started when heat from the Def-Tec device ignited foam rubber that had been put on the walls for soundproofing.
No one was hurt, but the rap group's master tape recordings, including more than $100,000 in equipment, were destroyed.
"I want all of us to be reimbursed," said Williams, 21, who performs with the group Lion Face. "We had big execs from New York coming here talking about million-dollar deals. I mean, this is our whole life."
But the five people who lived and worked in the two-story house were selling more than music, police said.
"We had them selling marijuana," said Lt. Mike Prine of the vice and narcotics unit.
Police Chief Goliath Davis III drove by the house Wednesday. Davis defended the department's action but said it would be reviewed.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that the police were here in a legitimate capacity," Davis said. "There had to be something illegal going on for there to be a search warrant."
No one was arrested in Tuesday night's drug raid, and no drugs were recovered, police say, because the property was destroyed.
On Wednesday, a black activist group, the socialist National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, marched on the police station and told residents that officers shot a gas canister into the house.
But Davis said, "We did it by the numbers."
No gas was used in the raid, police say.
The SWAT team, also known as the TAC (Tactical Apprehension and Control) team, arrived with a court-approved document to search 1341 19th St. S. about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The team, led by Sgt. Gary Robbins, knocked and announced the search, the city's 47th of the year. But no one came to the door, Robbins said.
Instead, officers saw the suspects running outside from a ground-floor door, forcing officers to break down the upstairs front door and enter.
Once inside, a "distraction device" was thrown downstairs to disorient anyone hiding, Robbins said. The device, which is like a firecracker, is commonly used in police operations to protect officers and people inside. It emits about a 185-decibel bang and flashes a 2-million candlepower light. It contains no gas.
The device landed a foot from the foam rubber wall, which immediately caught fire. The fire spread to the ceiling.
Robbins said his officers were not planning to use the device but threw it because they thought the suspects were arming themselves when they ran downstairs.
"It's unfortunate those guys packed that house with materials that were flammable," Robbins said.
Craig Johnson, 30, who lived in the house, questioned why no one in the house was arrested if police had evidence of drug dealing. "They can call it a flash or whatever they want to call it. To me, it seemed like a grenade or a bomb," Johnson said. "I stood outside my house and watched everything burn up."
Williams, the singer with Lion Face, stood outside the burned building in protest Wednesday wondering where he would get money to replace his belongings.
His group recorded the rap song, My City, which is about St. Petersburg, its police and drugs.
- Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.