Suspect, 16, Arrested in St. Petersburg Police Killing
ST. PETERSBURG | The largest manhunt in city history ended Tuesday night when police arrested a 16-year-old who they say shot and killed a veteran officer the night before.
Nicholas Lemmon Lindsey was taken into custody about 6 p.m. after a number of tips from the community led investigators to him. The arrest was announced about 24 hours after Officer David Crawford was shot and killed downtown after responding to a call of a prowler in the area.
Police Chief Chuck Harmon said Lindsey at first gave inconsistent stories about his encounter with Crawford, then after two hours of questioning, admitted shooting the officer. The boy was remorseful and cried, Harmon said.
The chief said the teen’s parents encouraged him to cooperate with police.
“I feel for the juvenile’s family, but at the same time he needs to be accountable for his actions,” Harmon said. “He’s going to be paying for this for the rest of his life, however long that is.”
Harmon said Lindsey will be charged with first-degree murder. He said he expected prosecutors to charge him as an adult. If convicted, Lindsey would face a sentence of life in prison, as juveniles cannot be sentenced to death.
Lindsey, a student at Gibbs High School, was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center. Police had not recovered a murder weapon by late Tuesday, but were continuing to search. Several officers and a forensics team were at Citrus Grove Apartments, 817 15th St. S, which is where Lindsey lived with his mother.
Since the shooting Monday night, police had descended by the hundreds into the area with dogs, helicopters and high-powered rifles as they searched for Crawford’s killer. The desperate search led them to a skinny, baby-faced kid â€” something that wasn’t lost on Harmon.
“It breaks my heart,” Harmon said. “We have a lot of good kids in our community. . . . You don’t expect this confrontation between a 16-year-old kid and a police officer to end like this.”
Lindsey has a record that shows two arrests in 2009, both on charges of grand theft auto.
Earlier Tuesday, city officials acknowledged the challenges of finding the gunman.
It’s unclear if anyone witnessed the shooting, and there was little evidence left behind. Nearby residents could offer only a vague description of a figure they saw running from the scene in the moments after gunshots cracked the night air.
City officials predicted it would take tips from the community to find the gunman. Some had feared an “anti-snitching” culture in some neighborhoods could result in a lack of cooperation from residents. The NAACP was so concerned it called a meeting of pastors and neighborhood leaders Tuesday night to encourage people with information to step forward.
City leaders were relieved when the community responded.
“I’m very proud of the city of St. Petersburg and the tips that came in,” Mayor Bill Foster said.
The call that led to the officer’s killing came in at 10:30 p.m. Monday. The caller said a man holding a brick was in his back yard along the 700 block of Third Avenue S. The caller saw the man jump a wall or fence and disappear and thought he might be a burglar.
Officer Donald J. Ziglar, 41, was first on the scene at 10:34 p.m. Crawford was a few seconds behind and took his search in a different direction.
Crawford saw someone matching the prowler’s description at the southwest corner of Second Avenue S and Eighth Street S. He parked his cruiser at an angle near the intersection and approached.
Police have yet to release details of what happened next, but the outcome was tragic.
The gunman shot Crawford several times, police said. The longtime officer, who was not wearing his bullet-resistant vest, returned fire but did not hit his assailant, police said.
The gunbattle took place at close range, police said. Shell casings were found within a 15-by-20-foot area on the sidewalk near the driver’s side of the police cruiser.
Michael Ponce de Leon and Steve Buck were the first to reach the wounded officer.
The brothers were driving around downtown when they saw the officer slump to the ground. They hit the brakes.
Ponce de Leon ran to the bleeding officer.
“Officer down!” Ponce de Leon said he yelled into the officer’s radio.
The response seemed immediate, he said, as dozens of police units quickly appeared.
“No, not again â€¦ not again â€¦” the officers kept saying, Ponce de Leon said, as they started chest compressions on their comrade.
Police would not comment on Ponce de Leon’s account. According to their time line, Ziglar found his fellow officer wounded at 10:37 p.m. and made the “officer down” call.
Police believe the gunman ran toward the southwest, leaving behind a black Nike flip-flop. Officers later found the other shoe at a shopping plaza a few blocks away. They are testing the Size 10 sandals for DNA.
With little evidence, police urged the community to come forward.
At a news conference at 11 p.m. Tuesday, Harmon said three tips were instrumental in Lindsey’s arrest.
Foster thanked the community and law enforcement, for stepping up and running down all the tips that came in.
“What a difference 24 hours makes,” he said. “This one was hard because we had this gaping wound in our hearts but yet the job had to be performed. We had a bad guy out there that we needed to apprehend.”
More than 200 officers from different agencies across Tampa Bay poured into the city to take part in the massive manhunt.