Authorities in Tampa, Florida are being accused of covering up the truth regarding officers’ fatal shooting of 29-year-old Jason Westcott, who was suspected of dealing drugs but was later found to have about $2 worth of marijuana in his home, WTVT-TV reported.
“Tampa police have lied about a lot of things, and they will continue to lie,” Westcott’s mother, Patti Silliman, was quoted as saying.
Westcott was shot and killed by members of a SWAT team during a May 27 raid on his home after allegedly pointing a firearm at officers. But after initially saying they were tipped off by neighbors, police changed their story twice. The tip was attributed to an undercover officer, and then to a confidential informant. Department spokesperson Laura McElroy told WTVT that the informant reported that Westcott was armed all four times he bought drugs from the suspect.
“Each time the informant was at his house, he saw pre-packaged marijuana, up to 40 baggies,” McElroy said. “If you’re just a personal user, you’re not going to have prepackaged marijuana that is for distribution.”
But according to the Tampa Bay Times, documents provided through a public records request showed that officers found only 0.2 grams in Westcott’s home. His partner, 22-year-old Israel Reyes, who also lived in the home, said they would sell small amounts of marijuana to people they knew and never kept more than 12 grams in the home.
“It was no crazy thing. There weren’t people coming in and out of our house every day,” said Reyes, who has not been charged. “It wasn’t paying any bills. We were still broke.”
The Times also reported that, according to people close to Westcott, it was police who encouraged him to “grab your gun and shoot to kill” months earlier, when he called them out of fear that a one-time visitor to the residence was planning to steal from him.
“He goes and buys a security system, and Tampa police say it’s because he’s a big-time drug dealer?” Silliman told WTVT. “No. It’s because he called you to protect him, and then you killed him.”
State attorneys determined that Cpl. Eric Wasierski and Officer Edwin Perez were justified in their use of deadly force in the shooting.
“Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture,” Police Chief Jane Kastor was quoted as saying. “If there’s an indication that there is armed trafficking going on — someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm — then the tactical response team will do the initial entry.”
A Facebook page supporting Silliman’s efforts was created days after Westcott’s death. Recently, supporters have begun posting “selfies” of themselves holding $2 to protest the way officers handled the case.
WTVT’s report on Westcott’s shooting can be seen below.