TAMPA, Fla. — Police were searching Tuesday for a convict charged with fatally shooting two Tampa police officers during an early morning traffic stop of a car that didn’t have a visible license plate.
Officer David Curtis pulled over the red Toyota Camry around 2:15 a.m. and called for backup after a background check revealed the male passenger in the car was wanted on a misdemeanour charge for writing a worthless check in Jacksonville.
The two officers approached the passenger side of the vehicle and six minutes later a witness called 911 to report they had been shot.
Curtis and Officer Jeffrey Kocab, both 31, were pronounced dead at the hospital.
“Horrible,” said Tampa Police Officer Jeremy Larson, a friend of Curtis and one of the first on the scene Tuesday morning. “The crime scene was horrible.”
The woman who police believe was driving the car, 22-year-old Cortnee Nicole Brantly, was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon for questioning, but she was not arrested.
Another individual, Dontae Rashawn Morris, 24, was still being sought by police, but was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and a single count of felony possession of a firearm.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said “we know who he is and we’re going to find him.”
Morris was released from prison in April after serving two years for cocaine possession and sales. He also served about nine months on other cocaine possession charges in 2004, according to prison records.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that in 2006, Morris was found not guilty of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, attempted robbery and possession of a short-barreled shotgun.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Pam Iorio announced Kocab’s death at a news conference at the hospital where the officers were taken. Dozens of sombre officers filled the hospital.
Kocab had been on the force for 14 months. His wife is nine months pregnant with their first child, police said.
Before joining the Tampa Police, Kocab was an officer with the Plant City Police Department in rural Hillsbourough County; he received that department’s officer of the year award in 2007.
“He loved his job,” Tampa officer Whitney McCormick said. “He was one of the best.”
Curtis, a father of four boys, had nearly four years with the department, including a rotation on an elite vice unit. He remained on life support as doctors prepared to harvest his organs at the family’s request.
“He loved his wife and children with everything he had,” said Tampa officer Larson, choking up during a news conference. “If you could imagine the perfect family, that would be Dave’s family.”
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said: “It’s just been heart wrenching as the family members have said goodbye to their loved ones and then it’s been heart wrenching to see the officers and how much they respect them.”
This is the department’s third fatal shooting in less than a year; 10 months ago, Cpl. Mike Roberts was shot and killed on duty.