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Panel: Police Shooting That Sparked Riot was Justified

November 13, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ A grand jury decided today that a white police officer was justified in shooting a black motorist, a killing that sparked a night of rioting last month.

The Pinellas County grand jury said St. Petersburg police officer Jim Knight had reason to be in fear of his life and that the fatal shooting of 18-year-old TyRon Lewis was justifiable homicide.

However, Chief Darrel Stephens suspended Knight for 60 days today after a review board said he ``placed himself in a position of disadvantage and danger,″ and failed to take ``reasonable means to avoid the danger.″

Knight was standing in front of the car after it had been stopped for speeding; the car lurched forward toward him several times, and he fired after shouting warnings that he would do so, the grand jury said.

After the Oct. 24 shooting, about 300 people roamed the streets of south St. Petersburg, hurling firebombs, rocks and bottles, and setting 29 fires. Several police officers and firefighters were injured.

Damages have been estimated at upwards of $5 million.

Knight’s lawyer, Joseph Ciarciaglino, criticized the suspension as scapegoating.

``They’re using him in an attempt to placate (people) ... by saying, `We’ll suspend him,‴ Ciarciaglino said.

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