Activists demand justice for teen shot by St. Pete Police

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Friday outside the St. Petersburg Police Department activists gathered to demand justice in the October 20th shooting of 17-year-old Christopher Tonsel.

“Release who? Christopher Tonsel! When do we want him released? Now!”

Tonsel was shot by St. Pete Police officer Leighton Williams. Wiliams says he fired one shot at Tonsel because he feared for his life. Tonsel is being held in the Pinellas County Jail in solitary confinement, charged as an adult. Catherine Jones, Tonsel’s mother, says she just wants justice for her son.

Catherine Jones, left, is Christopher Tonsel’s mother. She says she wants justice for her son. Credit: Arielle Stevenson/WMNF

“How can you fear for your life? When you came around the corner, he literally, his eyes opened,” Jones said. “He was terrified. So when did you fear for your life? And why did you feel it was alright to shoot my son?”

Police say shooting was justified

Friday’s rally was originally planned to demand body cam footage be released. Wednesday, an edited version of body cam footage (note: graphic footage of a shooting) from shooting was finally released ahead of the rally. The Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Investigative Taskforce says Officer Williams was justified. Karla Correa with the People’s Party for Socialism and Liberation says footage shows Tonsel’s gun was on the ground when he was shot.

“Right here is the gun that they’re claiming he pointed at the officer,” Correa said. “And this is the second that he fired the gunshot. You can see that the gun is already on the ground. The gun is already on the ground. The police are lying about this.”

Tonsel is being charged as an adult

Tonsel, who turns 18 next month, is charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, carrying a concealed firearm, and possession of a firearm by an individual under the age of 18. Tonsel’s younger cousin Aniyah, called for justice for her family.

“Officer Williams should be going to jail because that was really disrespectful, what he did to my cousin,” she said.

Jones says she’s seen her son twice since the arrest, the jail cited short-staffing as the reason she couldn’t see him over the holidays. The single shot from Officer Williams gun punctured Tonsel’s pancreas, liver, lungs, and ribs.  She says Tonsel’s health is deteriorating, he’s lost almost 50 pounds, and receives only Gatorade and Tylenol for pain. She wants the charges dropped and proper medical care for her son.

“I want my son to be able to at least go to a doctor and get help,” Jones said. “Even a dog gets care. He’s a human being and he’s someone’s son.”

At the end of the rally, three men on motorcycles with blue lives matter paraphernalia circled protestors, shouting, “He tried to kill a cop.”

According to records obtained by Creative Loafing last week, Officer Williams had a 2020 misconduct incident where he violated four St. Pete Police General Order and Standard operating procedures. In that incident, Williams pursued a driver who fled during a traffic stop. Williams failed to notify HQ of the traffic stop, failed to record injury caused by his K-9, failed to submit video evidence of the incident before the end of his shift, and failed to be efficient in assigned duties. Now the St. Pete Police Office of Professional Standards begins their internal investigation on the shooting. St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway can’t comment until then, which could take several weeks.

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