A Florida family seeks justice after their son Jason Westcott, was killed by members of a SWAT team, during a “drug raid” on his house which yielded only $2.00 worth of marijuana.
An ‘internal investigation’ absolved officers of any wrongdoing though police only found .02 grams of marijuana in Westcott’s home.
“They have IA, they have internal investigations but when you police yourself, you have that veil of concern by the outsider,” said attorney T.J. Grimaldi.
On Tuesday, attorney T.J. Grimaldi, representing the family of Westcott, informed the city that family would be filing a lawsuit, after finding numerous “glaring inconsistencies” in police statements in the aftermath of the killing.
“We have developed and seen what we view to be significant inconsistencies with the way that the police department portrayed this case from the get-go all the way to its conclusion,” he said. “We have put the city and the police department on notice that we are going to be filing a lawsuit,” Grimaldi said.
Westcott became the target of an intense drug trafficking investigation after a confidential informant led investigators to believe that Westcott was a dealer, as opposed to the casual cannabis smoker he was in reality. The informant has since gone public and admitted that he was lying to police in the case.
According to the Tampa Bay Times report:
A 50-year-old felon and drug addict, Ronnie “Bodie” Coogle, was the principal Tampa Police Department informer against at least five suspects this year. He conducted nine undercover operations. In their probable-cause affidavits, his handlers called him reliable. Even Tampa’s police chief praised his “track record.”
Coogle said they were all wrong. He said he repeatedly lied about suspects, stole drugs he bought on the public’s dime and conspired to falsify drug deals.
“He wasn’t a drug dealer. He sold a few grams of pot to smoke pot and stay high,” Coogle said of Westcott. “If you could even label Jason a drug dealer, he was the lowest level drug dealer.”
Peter Zwolinski, Westcott’s landlord, told the Times that when a Tampa police officer told him on the night of the raid that Westcott and Reyes were drug dealers, he “basically laughed in his face.”
“A drug dealer is paying his rent on time, and he doesn’t have me bothering him for money every week,” Zwolinski said. “You ever see a drug dealer whose phone was disconnected for a week at least every other month? I don’t.”
After seeing a news report about Westcott’s death, Coogle decided to come clean about his complicity in the situation and expose the lies that the police were attempting to forward in the case.
“They’re making statements that are lies, that are absolute untruths, that are based on shady facts,” Coogle said of Tampa police. “Everything they’re saying is based on the informant. And I was the informant.”
Coogle said he decided to step forward and reveal his identity, risking retribution from drug dealers, because of his remorse over Westcott’s death. “I’ve got morals, and I feel compassion for this guy’s family and for his boyfriend,” he said. “It didn’t have to happen this way.”
Westcott’s live-in boyfriend, Israel Reyes, 22, elaborated telling the Tampa Bay Times that he and Westcott were marijuana smokers, who sometimes sold to acquaintances, not drug dealers. He said they never kept more than 12 grams — a misdemeanor possession amount — in the house.
“We would just sell a blunt here and there to our friends or whatever. It was no crazy thing. There weren’t people coming in and out of our house every day,” Reyes said. “It wasn’t paying any bills. We were still broke . . . going to work every day.”
Nonetheless, on May 27, 2014, a Tampa Police SWAT team raided Westcott and Reyes’s home, killing Jason Westcott. Officers claim they announced the warrant and proceeded to clear the house, when they encountered an armed Westcott pointing his gun at police. Officers proceeded to fatally shoot him.
“I knew what they were saying from the moment it happened was a lie,” explained Patti Silliman, Westcott’s mother.
The stench of a police cover-up is strong in this case.
Initially, police claimed that a neighbor’s complaints led to the raid. After further investigation revealed that information to be false, police then attempted to say that the information was from an undercover officer. Finally after being pressed by a relentless investigation into the facts, police revealed they used a confidential informant.
The fact that a young man with his whole life to live was killed by police, over a $2 dollars worth of a plant, is a direct statement on the absurdity of the “War on Drugs.” The practice of trusting the word of individuals who have a vested interest in alleviating their own criminal charges is a practice that is contrary to the highest ideals of justice.