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Largo Police Shot, Killed Man – Family Wants Answers

Linus Phillip | Gianna | Officer-Involved Shooting

By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter

The family of an unarmed man shot and killed by Largo police say they want to see the videos of the incident to resolve apparent contradictions. Largo police say any videos won’t be released until the investigation is complete.

LARGO – About a year ago, Linus Phillip lost his 18-month-old daughter, Gianna, to leukemia.

Gianna was cremated March 23, 2017.

On March 23 this year, Mr. Phillip lost his life when Largo police shot and killed him while, police said, he was fleeing a traffic stop. But that’s not the Linus Phillip the family say they knew. They want to see what happened for themselves and they’ve asked for videos of the incident. But Largo police say they can’t release any videos until an investigation is finished.

“At the point we can release them, we will,” Largo police spokesman Randall Chaney said.

Largo attorney John Trevena said that’s “ridiculous.”

“Of course they can release the video,” Trevena said during a Wednesday press conference. There is no legal reason to withhold any video tapes, he said.

John Trevena | Lawyer | Courts

John Trevena

The family has hired Trevena, who knew Mr. Phillip, to get answers to their questions, which are being raised in part because of apparently contradictory statements made by the Largo Police Department. And, Trevena said, a witness to the incident tells a different story. Any videos from the officers, the Wawa, or bystanders could clear up the conflicts. It’s not right, Trevena said, to make the family possibly wait for months to understand exactly what happened in the Wawa parking lot on March 23.

“You have an unarmed individual shot by police,” Trevena said. “At this point, we only want answers to our questions. … We simply want the truth.”

To the family, Mr. Phillip was a loving father – a “teddy bear,” as his mother, Martha Hicks described him.

“My son is the most docile person, a big teddy bear,” Hicks said. “My son would not be running from no police.”

Police have a different view of Mr. Phillip. He had a history of arrests, mostly drug related, but had also been accused once before of fleeing and eluding. Officers said they stopped Phillip on Friday because his window tint was too dark. They say the conversation was polite, but the situation changed quickly after officers said they smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the car.

As Officers Matthew Steiner and  Prentice Ables tried to detain Mr. Phillip, they said he jumped into the car and tried to drive away. Ables managed to move away from the car, but Steiner was trapped half in and half out of the vehicle. Steiner drew his weapon and fired, hitting Mr. Phillip. Officers said they tried to save Mr. Phillip who was taken to Largo Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. Steiner was treated and released from Morton Plant Hospital. (For related stories, click here and here.)

Trevena said at least one witness contradicts that version of events. According to Trevena, that witness said Mr. Phillip did not try to flee – the car didn’t move until after he was shot, when he was no longer able to control the vehicle.

The officer “over-reacted. … and fired at Linus,” Trevena said.

There are other apparent contradictions, Trevena said. Largo police first said that Mr. Phillip tried to “pin” Steiner between the car, bollards and gas pump. Later, the department said Steiner was half in and half out of the car and narrowly avoided being run over when he fell to the ground after the shooting.

And the reason given for the traffic stop – illegally tinted windows – doesn’t make sense, the lawyer said, because the car was a rental.

Even more disturbing, Trevena said, is the conduct of the police since the shooting.

Once Mr. Phillip died, he was taken to the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office. After his body was released to the family, it was taken to Sylvan Abbey Funeral Home in Clearwater. After it had been there a short time, two Largo police detectives came to the funeral home because they were trying to get into Mr. Phillip’s cell phone. Trevena said they used the dead man’s hand to press against the phone to see if his fingerprint would open it.

“It was illegal. It was immoral. It was wrong,” Trevena said. Once the body had been released, he said, the police had no right to touch it. If they needed evidence, they should have gotten a warrant.

Chaney, the police spokesman, said the department will not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Trevena said that, not only did the Largo police kill Mr. Phillip, they’re now “trashing” him. It’s a common tactic among police nationwide when they’ve shot and killed an unarmed man, he said.

“They do what they can to slander the victim … and make the person look as bad as they can so the community won’t care,” Trevena said.

Photo of Linus Phillip with his daughter, Gianna, courtesy of the family.

Largo Police | Officer-Involved Shooting | John Trevena | Crime | Tampabay News

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Largo Police Shot, Killed Man - Family Wants Answers
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Largo Police Shot, Killed Man - Family Wants Answers
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The family of an unarmed man shot and killed by Largo police say they want to see the videos of the incident to resolve apparent contradictions. Largo police say any videos won't be released until the investigation is complete.
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