By MARY JO MELONE
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000
Iwant to believe the detectives, the prosecutors.
I want to believe that Antron Peterson's story is not a classic case of law, disorder and favoritism.
Peterson was one of three suspects in the other death that occurred in St. Petersburg that October night four years ago when parts of the city burned after a white cop shot and killed a driver who wouldn't stop, TyRon Lewis.
The other man killed was Andre Miller. Like Lewis, he was black. But Miller was a good Samaritan, shot as he warned his neighbors that three men were breaking into cars at their apartment complex.
According to court records, Antron Peterson was in that trio. He wasn't the shooter. He wasn't the driver of the car that took the three men to the complex. He told police he was in a Cadillac they'd broken into. He panicked when he saw another car pull up. He jumped out of the Caddy and was running away when he heard the gunfire that killed Miller.
When the police found Peterson, the case was three years old, the trail cold. Detectives were pretty sure who committed the crime. Police thought Peterson the least guilty, and they didn't have anybody to tell the story to the grand jury.
So, with the reluctant approval of prosecutors, the cops gave Peterson the break of his life.
He wouldn't be charged with so much as burglary, as long as he testified. Peterson's being the stepson of a St. Petersburg police sergeant, Al White, supposedly had nothing to do with it.
In a department where Chief Go Davis doesn't hesitate to play favorites, I'm supposed to believe this.
In most murder cases with multiple defendants, you read them their rights, charge them to the max and wait for one to crack. The one who does pleads guilty to a lesser charge and testifies.
Remember Valessa Robinson, convicted of third-degree murder in her mother's killing in Carrollwood?
Valessa was arrested with her boyfriend and a friend, Jon Whispel. All three were charged with first-degree murder. Whispel gave in, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, agreed to testify against Valessa, and got 25 years.
Police, by contrast, said they never even read Peterson his rights. The deal to treat him only as a witness was struck just as the police picked him up, according to Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. Peterson got immunity because the cops believed he wouldn't cooperate otherwise.
Isn't that often the risk?
It's not as though the police were empty-handed. They had the gun used to kill Miller. They knew whom it belonged to. They even had testimony from a woman -- who later tried to retract it -- who named the three, including Peterson. They even knew the alleged shooter, Jermaine Green, was the stepson of another cop. But there was no way they would go easy on Green, their main target.
In 1996, the police were supposed to be the enemy against innocent black men.
In 2000, the enemy is a kind of old-fashioned law enforcement that was supposed to die with the poll tax: You know the right people, they take pity on you, tell you to straighten out and join the Army. That's what Peterson did.
You could argue if whites got away with this, blacks should, too. Or you could argue that this dealmaking is wrong no matter the color of the beneficiary.
In 2000, the enemy is also one man's arrogance.
As part of his work on the story about Antron Peterson and his relationship to a police officer, Times reporter Bill Levesque called police Chief Go Davis for comment.
"You've got the wrong man. I'm too high up the food chain. I know absolutely nothing about it. I'm the chief. I'm not involved in criminal investigations," he told Levesque.
Davis, the chief who insists his officers be civil to the public, then said good-bye and hung up on Levesque.