The Tampa Bay area is reeling from four police shootings, two fatal, two non-fatal only because the officers were wearing bullet-proof vests.

This morning, Tampa officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis were killed at a traffic stop.  David Curtis was the father of four young children.  He worked the overnight shift so he could spend more time with his children.  Jeffrey Kocab was about to become a father: he leaves behind a wife who is nine months pregnant.

Jeffrey Kocab                          David Curtis

Even in death, David Curtis is continuing to serve.  His organs are being harvested today to save the lives of people he never met.  In the next few weeks, Jeffrey Kocab’s wife will bury her young husband and give birth to his child.

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Of course, the person being sought in these murders has a long record and should have been in prison:

Police said they are looking for Dontae Rashawn Morris, 24, and Cortnee’ Nicole Brantley, 22, but have not named them as suspects.  Morris was released from state prison in April after serving two years on a drug conviction in Hillsborough County, records show.  In October 2005, he was arrested by Tampa police on charges of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and robbery. He was found not guilty.

Morris spend nine months in prison, starting in 2004, for several cocaine charges.  Upon release, he was quickly re-arrested and charged with murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and robbery.  Some judge or jury acquitted him.  Why, I wonder.  Surely, with multiple gun charges, and an attempted murder, there was evidence.  Police did manage to put him away again after the murder acquittal — on yet more drug charges accumulated over two years.  He went back to prison in 2008 and got out two months ago.

Why didn’t the murder charges stick in 2005?  Why wasn’t Morris’ cumulative — and accumulating — record considered in sentencing him?  Now two police are dead, and while it is premature to draw any conclusions, I hope the question gets asked: What happened in the courts that enabled a repeat offender, a violent gun felon, a man charged with a previous murder, to be walking the streets of Tampa last night?

[The] incident began about 2:15 a.m. when [Officer David] Curtis pulled over the Toyota, which was missing a tag, near 50th Street and 23rd Avenue, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. The passenger was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant out of Jacksonville for a worthless check, so Curtis called for backup and Kocab came to the scene.  Both officers were shot in the head at close range as they approached the passenger side of the Toyota. . .

Somebody in the courts, or the prosecutor’s office, or the city council, or the state legislature, needs to step up and announce a top-to bottom review of the choices made that put this killer back on the streets, not once, not twice, but three times (not counting the inevitable juvenile record).  People crawl all over themselves to create citizen review boards whenever a police officer makes any kind of mistake.  Why shouldn’t the same be done with our courts, especially when officers get killed, but also whenever someone else gets killed by a predator who should have been in prison?

Meanwhile, in Lakeland, an hour outside Tampa, two other policemen are alive today thanks only to their bulletproof vests.

Deputy Paul Fairbanks

Deputy Michael Braswell

Deputies Paul Fairbanks and Mike Braswell were shot multiple times after stopping Matthew Tutt, who is described as a “21-year old . . . with a long criminal history.”  Another repeat offender who should have been in prison.  He was killed by police at the scene, but his presence on the streets that night ought to be the subject of another citizen’s review.  The fact that, by the grace of God, the officers were saved by their vests doesn’t change the fact that Tutt tried to murder them:

Tutt fired seven times, according to the sheriff’s office. Three of those bullets hit 58-year-old Deputy Paul Fairbanks III — in the stomach, left wrist and left elbow, Judd said. Deputy Mike Braswell, 32, was hit in the right hand, twice on the chest and once in the right thigh.

Ironically, there will probably be a review of the officers’ actions in shooting Tutt.  But there will be no review of the court’s decision to allow Tutt to be out on the streets, armed and dangerous, when he might have been in prison instead.  So long as we challenge and micromanage police actions while handing out free passes to the rest of the justice system, it’s the police who will continue to suffer and die.

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