Justin Garcia talks about his reporting on local police departments

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Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia. Zoom interview screen capture (2023).

A shocking police raid in 2014 led to a review of the City of Tampa’s SWAT procedures and a settlement for the family of a man who was killed by police. On Tuesday Café we talked about this and a range of other police issues with Justin Garcia, who is the Tampa Bay Times’ state and local accountability reporter.

Jason Westcott killed in a raid by Tampa Police in 2014

On May 27, 2014, Jason Westcott was killed in a Tampa Police raid in his home near Zoo Tampa. Garcia has recently written about a financial settlement between the city and Westcott’s family. He also wrote about how this raid led to a review of Tampa’s SWAT procedures and the police use of informers.

Listen to this full show here:

We heard a recording from Jason Westcott’s mother, Patti Silliman, and Jason’s boyfriend Israel (Izzy) Reyes. They were interviewed on WMNF by Rob Lorei in April 2015 about what happened when Jason Westcott was killed.

Watch the full interview with Justin Garcia here:

“He was a motorcycle mechanic. He also worked with his brother doing cell phone towers. Jason was he just had a huge heart and he was there for everybody. You wouldn’t find a soul that didn’t know him that he didn’t do something for in a positive way.
Izzy you were his boyfriend. Give us a little bit more about Jason and who he was.
Like Patti was saying he was he had a huge heart. He always did something for anybody. Even if it didn’t benefit him. He was he was always willing to do it.
And the two of you lived, you rented a house, on North Boulevard in Seminole Heights not too far from the Lowry Park Zoo [now called Zoo Tampa]. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s correct.
How long were you together with Jason?
For two and a half years.
Let’s talk about the night of the raid if we could for a moment. What do you remember about the night of the raid?
We were both working that day, so I came home Jason was already home from where I came inside the house and took a shower, got ready. We ate dinner early that day, around five or six o’clock. And he passed out in the bedroom asleep and I went out to the living room to watch TV. And I ended up passing all asleep. And then the next thing I know I’m being dragged off the couch and thrown onto the ground by the SWAT team. And then I hear the gunshots when they shot and killed him.
How many gunshots did you hear?
There were five gunshots consecutively.
Did Jason die right away?
He did.
Did you see Jason?
I’d seen him after the fact after they shot him after two officers were standing over him.
It must have been really hard?
It was really hard seeing the blood spatter and dripping on the walls and it was – it just wasn’t a sight for anybody to see.
The Tampa Police Department raided your home because they thought that you and Jason were doing drugs. Were you guys drug dealers?
No we were not drug dealers. We were recreational pot smokers. You know, we did have marijuana and we would smoke with our friends. And that was it.
That was it?
That was it.
Patti, how did you get the word that Jason had been killed?
I was at work and my other son called my work and told me that there had been a raid at my son’s house and that I needed to leave work. And I said, ‘A raid? What do you mean?’ You have to know that previously, seven months before there was an incident at his house where people had threatened to rob them so I assume that’s what he meant. And then my son said, ‘No, Ma, you have to leave. Like right now. Cause Jason was shot.’ And I’m like, ‘Shot by who?’ And he said the police. And that was pretty much how I found out. I was at work, by my son.
Had Jason ever been in trouble with the police prior to this?
Never. Matter of fact he called them looking to make sure that he was safe.

Law enforcement agencies are accessing private security videos

Garcia has also reported on how thirteen law enforcement agencies in Florida, including Hillsborough Sheriff and Clearwater Police Department, do business with a company called Fusus to allow them to watch video from up to 2,500 private security cameras [like Ring] in real time if users opt-in. Law enforcement agencies have add-on options that provide things like a predictive policing tool, AI searches and gunshot detection.

The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office uses Fusus in addition to something else called Eye on Crime Network with hundreds of publicly owned cameras at intersections. And it has license plate recognition trailers.

Privacy advocates Garcia spoke with have concerns like:

  • Access often presents a threat to homeowners & business owners themselves
  • It’s ripe for abuse
  • A predictive algorithm targets Black and Latino neighborhoods
  • Because they are private cameras, it’s difficult for privacy advocates to monitor access
  • Over-policing often results when any community is under a microscope

Feds deny Tim Burke’s request for his electronics back

Garcia has also reported the latest news about a Tampa man whose home was searched by the FBI. The feds have denied Tim Burke’s request that his electronic equipment be returned while the government investigates leaked Fox News videos.

Also on Tuesday Café: Americonned film

Also on Tuesday Café (15 August 2023) we heard from the director of a new documentary about how the middle class in America has been pushed to the edge and how to fight back against it. It’s called Americonned and there is a screening Wednesday night in downtown St. Petersburg at Green Light Cinema.

WMNF’s Tuesday Café

Tuesday Café airs weekly on WMNF beginning at 10:06 a.m. ET.

You can listen live on 88.5 FM in Tampa Bay, on wmnf.org or on the WMNF Community Radio app.

You can watch replays on TBAE Network Channels at 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Tuesdays on Spectrum 636, Frontier 34 and watch.tbae.net. Or on demand.

You can listen anytime on demand on wmnf.org or by subscribing to the Tuesday Café podcast on your favorite podcast platform.

https://open.spotify.com/show/311qfxLFcO8F7ZvnjgZogD – WMNF’s Tuesday Café with Seán Kinane.

More from Israel Reyes on WMNF in 2015

The whole street was filled with cops. But initially it was the tactical response team who was in the house and there was at least five or six of em. I don’t remember four or five rushing in and all at the same time. After the fact they brought me out the house and cop car for like, four hours. So I’d seen Jason being brought out of the house and them doing their job.
How are the police dressed?
The SWAT team who came into my house they were dressed in all black. So you couldn’t really tell that it was the police because I couldn’t see any — like they didn’t have anything that stated that they were the police was just in all black. And then just the regular officers were in their uniform and then they had undercover officers out there as well that just looked like regular people.
Did it look like a military operation to you?
It did. I just couldn’t believe how many patrol vehicles were out there and over something we — over nothing.

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