Tampa Bay columnists
Mary Jo Melone
World & Nation
AP The Wire
Comics & Games
Home & Garden
Advertise with the Times
Little noticed, life ends at 15
By LINDA GIBSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000
TAMPA -- On the last day of his life, 15-year-old Kortney Smiley decided again to skip school.
He went to the rundown College Hill neighborhood where he was known by his street name, "Smiley."
He pushed aside memories of the three times he had been robbed at gunpoint and thought instead of the sure, immediate reward awaiting him there: hundreds of dollars for just a few hours of selling drugs.
As Kortney stood at the corner of E Lake Avenue and N Potter Street about 8 p.m. on that Tuesday a few weeks ago, a shotgun blast from a passing car killed him.
"That's why we didn't want him to go over there," said his aunt, Linata Stevens. "He just wouldn't listen."
His death barely rated a mention in the newspapers the next day. He was buried June 22. Nobody has been arrested for killing him.
Alvin Bailey, his counselor at a last-chance school for kids who have been repeatedly expelled, kept hoping Kortney would come back. If Kortney could have made it through school without any problems, even for a short while, Bailey was willing to go all out trying to persuade a high school football coach to take an athletically gifted, 6-foot-1, 210-pound freshman with a record of delinquency.
In Kortney's mind, though, putting the hours in to be good at football "was the hard road to go," said Bailey, a counselor at the Foundation School in the Without Walls International Church. "Smiley told me he'd make $500 to $1,000 a weekend. I didn't ask what he sold. I didn't want to know."
Bailey probably knew Kortney as well as anyone.
He saw a scared boy inside the big kid with the dreadlocks, the baggy pants and the bad attitude. Everyone else saw a menacing teenager.
"The first time you met him, you'd think pit bull, cobra, anything that attacks. He scared people," Bailey said.
Kortney's Aunt Linata agreed. She and Kortney's mother, Sheena Smiley, were always telling him, "Pull up your pants. Get your hair cut."
"If I didn't know you," his aunt told him, "I'd be afraid of you."
Bailey counsels dozens of kids like Kortney. They all cop an attitude of intimidation because of some long-standing problem, he said. Kortney's problem was the absence of his father.
"I don't want to talk about that motherf-----," Kortney told Bailey the first time the counselor asked about him. Later he told Bailey his father was in prison and didn't want anything to do with Kortney.
"His anger just vented out," said Bailey, a father of four boys ages 4 through 16. "A lot of people don't know how much not having a mom and dad to count on hurts a kid. A man needs to be there, with boys especially."
Kortney was born June 24, 1984, at Tampa General Hospital. His mother, then 20, already had two daughters. She has given birth to seven children in all.
In an interview after Kortney's death, Sheena Smiley wouldn't identify his father. Kortney, she said, never had a relationship with him.
Depending on the document, court records list Antoine, Antoin or Antwan Brown as Kortney's father. Child protection workers tried several times but could never find him.
The extended Smiley family -- Sheena and her sisters and brothers, their spouses and children -- live in Seffner, anchored by Kortney's grandmother, 60-year-old Elvira Davis.
Sheena Smiley, unemployed and using cocaine for years, according to court records, shuttled in and out of jail on minor charges as Kortney grew up.
When Kortney was 4, child protection authorities found evidence his mother wasn't feeding her children enough. It's unclear in the records what action was taken.
When he was 6, traces of cocaine were detected in his 9-day-old sister. They awarded custody of the children to Davis in 1990, and Kortney spent the remaining years of his life at his grandmother's house at 605 Calhoun Ave. in Seffner.
While Kortney attended Lopez Elementary School, his 15-year-old brother and his mother were each arrested for possession and delivery of cocaine.
When he was in Burnett Middle School, his mother was sent to prison for violating her probation on the cocaine conviction with a new charge, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. She was released in 1997 after serving two years.
Kortney first appears in juvenile court records in February 1999 as a 13-year-old eighth-grader. He had held a knife to another student while in a Little League park near his home. He was expelled from school and sent home with his grandmother, supposedly on home detention.
Davis told Department of Juvenile Justice caseworkers that Kortney no longer listened to her and that he had "a big mouth." She couldn't handle him.
Yet every time he got into trouble, the state sent him back to his grandmother. Between August 1999 and March 2000, Kortney was charged three times with battery, with resisting arrest without violence and for possession of marijuana and petty theft.
He earned a few short stays in juvenile detention and one try at a diversion program. He quit that after three weeks.
His family tried to pull him back onto the right track.
"Sometimes we would go over (to College Hill) looking for him," said his Aunt Linata. "If I saw him, I'd try to get him into the car to come home."
For a brief time, Kortney showed signs of trying to get along in the Foundation School, to follow the rules, said Bailey. He went from getting reprimanded daily for mouthing off to going a full week without any problems. He even applied for a job at Burger King.
After the interview, he told Bailey he didn't want people ordering him around for little more than minimum wage.
" "Chump change,' he called it," Bailey said.
"It's easy for a kid to make the wrong decision. How is a child going to make the right, positive decision with no one there to tell him?"
- Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.