Suspect at large, questions remain in the shooting deaths of 2 Florida police officers
TAMPA, Fla. – Police in body armor blanketed Tampa on Wednesday, searching for a man accused of shooting two Tampa officers to death, and officials revealed that the convicted felon was released from prison in April even though he had a warrant for his arrest.
Tampa police were looking into why Dontae Rashawn Morris, 24, was not picked up from prison by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, who wanted him on bad check charges.
"The warrant was issued while he was still in prison," said Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.
Morris is accused of killing officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during an early Tuesday morning traffic stop.
The deaths rocked the area and the 1,000-member police force. Flags throughout the city flew at half mast, and a memorial to the slain officers outside police headquarters was covered in wreaths, candles and cards. Services were to be held for the officers this weekend.
Curtis, 31, was a married father of four. Kocab, 31, was about to become a father for the first time — his wife is nine months pregnant.
"Every person appears to be deeply affected, from the calls I've received to the e-mails to the people on the street who come up to me with tears in their eyes," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
On Wednesday night, dozens of police in SWAT gear — some even driving an armored tank — surrounded an apartment complex. Officers searched every apartment in the complex, and led one man away in handcuffs to question him about Morris' whereabouts.
Yet detectives came up empty-handed, and Morris had still not been caught.
"We believe he is armed and dangerous. We cannot provide a sense of comfort to the community," Castor said during a news conference. "With the amount of pressure we have out in the community, it's surprising to me that he has been able to stay underground for this long ... I don't know for sure if he's alive."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the agency notified Jacksonville Sheriff's Office that Morris was getting out of prison and they needed to pick him up.
Corrections officers informed Jacksonville authorities of Morris' impending release last October, prison records showed.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page Wednesday night, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford said there were three worthless check warrants for Morris. One of the warrants was for a felony, and Rutherford said his office was looking into the matter to determine if a clerk missed it.
During the traffic stop Tuesday, Morris was a passenger in a red Toyota driven by Cortnee Brantley, 21, who drove away after Morris shot the officers, leaving him at the scene, police said.
Detectives found Brantley in an apartment complex Tuesday. They questioned her for seven hours and released her.
"We could have charged her last evening, but the decision was made, for the good of the investigation and the focus of taking Dontae Morris into custody, to release her," Castor said.
There is a "distinct possibility" that Brantley will be charged in the future, the chief said.
Morris is considered to be armed and dangerous. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Police are also seeking Morris' brother, 21-year-old Dwayne Daniel Callaway. He was wanted on two counts of violating probation on a domestic battery charge, and detectives want to question him about his brother.
Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy contributed to this report from Miami.