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Suspect's death sparks investigation

A Tarpon Springs officer tried to restrain him, resulting in a fatal injury. Police say his actions appear justified.

By RICHARD DANIELSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- About a week after suffering a severe head injury during a scuffle, a drug suspect has died and the Tarpon Springs police officer who arrested him has been transferred to a plainclothes administrative assignment.

William Anderson, 39, of 5115 S Town Loop, New Port Richey, died Friday afternoon at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, police said.

As a result, Tarpon Springs police, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's Office have opened an investigation, according to Tarpon Springs police Capt. Bob Kochen.

Kochen said Officer Romando Black, a 10-year Tarpon Springs police veteran, was placed on administrative duties, a normal procedure in such circumstances. Until Friday, Black had been working at his usual assignment at the Police Department's Cops & Kids Outreach Center on E Harrison Street.

Once the death investigation is complete, the Police Department will conduct its own administrative investigation, similar to an internal affairs review, into the circumstances of Anderson's arrest.

Even so, Kochen said, police continue to believe that the arrest was justified, that it appears that Black acted properly and that Anderson's injury was inadvertent.

"Based on all the evidence we have . . . nothing has changed (and) no additional witnesses have come forward," Kochen said. "We have not received any differing accounts from what the officer and all the witnesses were saying."

Larry Bedore, the director of operations for the medical examiner's office, said it would take at least a month to complete the investigation and determine a cause of death.

"This is going to be a head injury question," Bedore said. That means that Anderson's brain will have to be soaked in formaldehyde for 30 days so that the tissues become firm enough for a detailed forensic examination.

Police say Anderson was injured the evening of June 8 after he approached Black, who was wearing street clothes, at the kids center and asked to buy crack cocaine. A former narcotics officer, Black played along, telling Anderson that he would call his supplier. Instead, he called for other officers.

When Black pulled his police badge, Anderson punched him in the arm and tried to run, police said. Black grabbed Anderson, and Anderson's head struck the edge of a curb as Black tried "to escort Anderson to the ground," police said. Witnesses told police Black was trying to restrain Anderson and did not try to injure him.

Anderson lost consciousness and was flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition until his death.

Before he died, Anderson was charged with attempting to purchase crack cocaine and resisting arrest with violence. He had no prior criminal record in the state, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Records show he was married from 1981 to 1988 and has two children.

Bedore said late Friday that an organ donation network was trying to contact Anderson's family to ask whether any of his organs would be donated. Attempts to reach his relatives Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Black, who grew up in Tarpon Springs, runs the youth center, where children play basketball and other games after school and during the summer. The program also organizes events for the children, including trips to Busch Gardens and Celebration Station. Some children at the center call him "Bam," his childhood nickname.

Black's personnel file shows he has performed well through the years, although he was suspended for one day each in 1991 and 1994 for not attending a mandatory firearms training course and for tardiness.

Black did not return a call from the Times late Friday afternoon.

Glendine Davis, who knows Black from his work at the youth center, said that as a parent she supports "what he has done in the community" and remains disturbed at Anderson's actions.

"I just think it's awful that someone would come to a center . . . known for youth activities and try to purchase drugs," she said.

-- Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or at danielson@sptimes.com.

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