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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shooting by Police Sparks Riots in Florida City

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- Streets where buildings burned and mobs pelted police with rocks were deserted early Friday after a riot that began when a white officer fatally shot a black man during a traffic stop.


"The city is very calm right now,'' Police Chief Darrel Stephens said Friday morning.


At least 11 people were injured, including a police officer who was shot and a newspaper photographer who was beaten, as hundreds of people swarmed through the streets after Thursday's shooting. Twenty people were arrested.


Stores were looted and thick smoke clouded the predominantly black neighborhood just south of downtown St. Petersburg, a city with a population of about 240,000, roughly 20 percent black.


Groups of youths ran back and forth in the night, throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at officers in riot gear, businesses and passing cars.


"They were tossing everything at us but the kitchen sink,'' said Sergeant Denny Simmons, who was struck in the arm during the initial standoff between police and a group of about 100 young men.


The strip of abandoned businesses and deteriorating homes was the site of another police shooting just last week.


In that case, police said, a man broke into his estranged wife's apartment and attacked her with a knife. Police shot him after a standoff.


The cases were unrelated and dissimilar, but Stephens samd memories of that shooting "might have fueled'' some of Thursday's anger.


Residents talked about that shooting at the scene Thursday, and bystanders shouted, "Stop the police brutality,'' at a line of police officers, according to the St. Petersburg Times.


Police planned to work 12-hour shifts and step up patrols today.


Twenty-eight buildings were set on fire, he said. Firefighters, also pelted with rocks and other debris, pulled back and let some buildings burn. Among the many buildings and vehicles set ablaze were a police substation, a post office, police cruiser and television news truck.


But by shortly after midnight, police officers were removing barricades from the 25-square block area and only a few fires still burned.


The trouble started after two officers stopped a car with two young men inside at around 5:30 p.m. Police said the car was speeding, and the officers approached it after the vehicle stopped at a red light.


"The driver continually refused to roll his window down or obey any verbal commands,'' police said in a news release.


The officers could not see the car's occupants because the windows were darkly tinted, police said.


Officer Jim Knight fired several shots through the windshield, striking the driver, after the car lurched forward, apparently trying to run the officer over, police said.


But witnesses said Knight was standing with his hands on the hood when the car inched forward and his partner yelled for him to shoot, the St. Petersburg Times reported.


Lisa Craft told the newspaper that Knight fired five times.


"The boy wasn't going fast enough to run them over. He wasn't even going 2 miles per hour,'' she added.


Police identified the man as Tyron Lewis, 18. He died before reaching Bayfront Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said.


It was the sixth police shooting of the year in St. Petersburg, coming just one week after another shooting in the same area.


Shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday, helmeted police carrying shields cordoned off several blocks around the intersection.


They fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse mobs looting businesses. One officer was shot in the shoulder and treated at a hospital.


"Where the big mistake was when the police put the riot gear on,'' said one area businessman who spoke on condition of anonymity. "That's when all hell broke loose.''


Stephens defended his department's actions.


"Any time you have an encounter between police and a member of the community, particularly when there's gunfire involved and there's loss of life, there are lots and lots of rumors,'' he said.


The White House expressed immediate concern.


"We're making inquiries of local officials for an assessment of the situation,'' White House press secretary Mike McCurry said from New Orleans, where he was on a campaign trip with President Bill Clinton.