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Search warrant brought gunfire to St. Pete neighborhood

ST. PETERSBURG — James Harrell sat in a chair outside his front door as he talked on the phone Friday night. In the yard, his 21-year-old son bathed the family's pit bull, Polo.

As he spoke, from somewhere in the darkness across 18th Avenue S, gunfire erupted.

Harrell hung up the phone. His son dropped the gray bucket of soapy water. They scrambled into the house, dragging Polo with them.

He told both of his boys to lie down on the floor. He opened the door and saw nearly a dozen police officers in black masks carrying pistols and rifles. Then, Harrell heard two or three booms from flashbang stun grenades exploding in a nearby home.

Soon, out there in the darkness, one man would be found with a bullet wound to the leg and another would be charged with seven counts of attempted murder.

The chaos, according to St. Petersburg police, began just after 7:30 p.m. as members of the vice and narcotics division tried to serve a search warrant at 3810 18th Ave. S. Some officers drove to the home and others came on foot.

As they approached, several people in the house's carport ran away. At the same time, police said, a white Toyota Camry that had been parked in front of the house quickly backed up, nearly hitting one of the officers. The driver then sped east toward a group of uniformed officers and undercover detectives.

Sgt. Shannon Halstead and two detectives fired their weapons— two handguns and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle — at the car, police said. None of the officers or detectives was hurt.

Investigators chased the Toyota to an alley near the intersection of 37th Street and 13th Avenue S, where it stopped. Several people got out and ran.

Danardrick Chance, 19, had been shot. He was arrested near the car and taken to Bayfront Medical Center with a leg wound that was not considered life-threatening. Chance, first charged at age 13 with disorderly conduct, has a history of drug-related arrests.

Charges against him were pending Friday night.

Near the car, a canine unit officer tracked and arrested Marques Rowe, who police say had run away. According to an arrest report, he later acknowledged driving the car.

Rowe, 21, has been charged with seven counts of attempted murder and single counts of driving with a revoked license, resisting arrest, fleeing and eluding a police officer and possession of marijuana. He was held kin the Pinellas County Jail on Saturday night in lieu of $93,750 bail. His criminal history dates to 2004, when he was 12. He has been arrested 10 times, mostly on drug and theft charges.

At the house, two people were arrested as a result of the search warrant.

Reginald Thompson, 23, and Ernest Jenkins, 21, were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Both men have lengthy criminal histories.

Investigators say they recovered a handgun, marijuana and crack cocaine from the home.

Halstead, 36, and the two detectives, who were not identified because they work undercover, have been placed on administrative leave while the case is under review, which is routine after officer-involved shootings. Halstead joined the department in 2001 and was promoted to sergeant in 2010.

On Saturday, a small group of people was gathered outside the home. They sat on metal chairs, drank bottles of Budweiser and complained of what had happened the previous night. They said police used too much force.

At least four middle school-aged children, neighbors said, were in the house when the police tossed in the flashbangs and broke through the front door with their weapons drawn.

Across the street, Harrell was just thankful none of the rounds had struck him or his family. A small bullet hole made years ago is visible in his front window.

Like his neighbors, he didn't understand the officers' tactics.

"They came like it was a murderer over there," he said. "I know they've got to do their jobs, but they're too aggressive."

Researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.

Search warrant brought gunfire to St. Pete neighborhood 03/09/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 7:51pm]
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