Pubdate: Tue, 24 May 2016
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Page: B1
Copyright: 2016 St. Petersburg Times
Author: Anna M. Phillips, Times Staff Writer


A 29-Year-Old Man Was Killed In A Raid That Was Later Deemed
Justified. Police Found $2 Worth of pot.

TAMPA - The mother of a man who was shot and killed by Tampa police
officers during a raid on his home in 2014 has sued the city, its
former police chief and the officers involved over her son's death.

The lawsuit, filed late last week in Hillsborough County Circuit
Court, accuses the police of negligence for acting on the word of an
informer with a history of heavy drug use and criminal activity. It
also says that officers used excessive force against 29-year-old Jason
Westcott, who was killed, and his boyfriend Israel 'Izzy' Reyes, who
was 22 and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Referring to the informer as 'an untrained, drug addicted, convict,'
the lawsuit filed by Westcott's mother, Patricia Silliman, blames his
handlers for 'negligent use of a confidential informant,' who they
either knew had a shadowy past or failed to properly vet. In addition
to naming former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor, the lawsuit names six
police officers and two corporals, all of whom still work for the department.

'She wants to clear (her son's) name,' said Tampa defense attorney TJ
Grimaldi, who represents Westcott's mother and Reyes. 'She also wants
to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.' Citing a policy of
not discussing a case pending litigation, a police department
spokesman declined to comment.

The shooting, which the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office found
justified, took place on the evening of May 27, 2014, when both men
were asleep at home.

While Reyes dozed on the sofa and Westcott slept in their bedroom, a
Tampa Police Department SWAT team pulled up outside in a BearCat
armored personnel carrier. The officers were there on the word of an
informer named Ronnie 'Bodie' Coogle, 51, who had purchased less than
$200 worth of marijuana during repeated visits to Westcott's house
over four months, records showed.

With a search warrant for marijuana and the belief that they were
confronting a pair of hardened drug traffickers, the officers entered
the rented bungalow at 906 W Knollwood St.

According to the lawsuit, two police officers yanked Reyes off the
couch, threw him to the floor, and pinned him there.

Westcott, who had previously sought the police department's help in
dealing with a man who had threatened to rob him, was immediately on
high alert. As men rushed into his house, he grabbed his gun. But
before he could fire it, he was shot by Cpl. Eric Wasierski and
Officer Edwin Perez, both of whom are named in the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that neither Westcott nor Reyes heard the officers
enter. It says their dogs didn't bark; their neighbors didn't hear the
cries of 'police' and 'search warrant,' that the officers say they

Despite assertions that Westcott was a drug dealer, the SWAT team
found only 0.2 grams - approximately $2 worth - of marijuana in the
house, according to public records.

In interviews with the Tampa Bay Times, Castor defended the
investigation of Westcott and Reyes and said the officers acted
appropriately and out of fear for their lives.

But several weeks after Westcott's death, Coogle told the Times that
the raid was based on lies he told his police handlers, as well as a
drug purchase they encouraged him to fabricate.

Coogle said he told the officers that the men were selling heroin and
a large amount of marijuana that he claimed to have personally seen in
their house. Neither was true, he later said.

Westcott 'wasn't a drug dealer. He sold a few grams of pot to smoke
pot and stay high,' Coogle said.

Coogle also said that one night, when he returned from Westcott's home
empty-handed, police officers nudged him to sign paperwork saying he
had bought $20 worth of marijuana. Lying was easy, he said, because
his handlers didn't record his drug buys, although this is commonly
done as a way of monitoring informers' work.

Castor, who initially vouched for Coogle's truthfulness, later said
she still believed the information he gave to narcotics detectives.

But as for his accusations against police officers, the chief said: 'I
don't believe him at all.'  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D