TAMPA -- Was he hit on purpose because he was trying to run away, or was it just a tragic accident as police say? Those are the questions loved ones of Dusharn Weems, 23, are trying desperately to get answered.
“When they took him to the hospital, he was immediately put on life support, hooked up to 21 different machines. The part that bothers me is the family was not notified by TPD,” said Reginald Bolton, spokesperson for the family.
Police say the father of one was in a stolen car on October 20 when they tried to stop him at 30th and Bougainvillea in Tampa. He allegedly ditched the car near Busch Boulevard and ran into a parking lot as police were pulling in.
"Mr. Weems came from the side and collided with the side of the car. It is our understanding that he fell down and hit his head on the pavement,” said TPD spokesman Steve Hegarty. “It seems pretty clear that it was an accident that resulted in a severe head injury.”
Loved ones say that head injury resulted in brain swelling that eventually led to his death a few days after the accident. Hegarty could not pinpoint when TPD contacted the family, but said the chief did meet with loved ones Nov. 7.
Haydee Oropesa, an attorney for the family, says she’s not satisfied with the explanations police are sharing.
"I've been asked by TPD to withhold judgment, and I am doing that. I think we all need to be responsible and wait to get to the truth; that's what I want,” she said. “The issue is how did he get hit? How? Was it an accident? Was it something more?”
Hegarty said the officer was decelerating when the car hit Weems. However, Bolton, who is the godfather to Weems’ brother, says the storyline police are offering is not consistent.
“From the beginning, they admit that they bumped him. Now they are saying he ran into the car,” said Bolton. “My thinking is, if I’m running from the police officer and another car approach me, I’m not going to run to that car. I’m going to turn and run another way.”
Police say dashcam video does exist, but will not be released until the investigation is complete. After the medical examiner determines a cause of death, the case will be turned over to the State Attorney’s Office.
Oropesa and Bolton also have concerns about police transparency after the public was not immediately notified of the accident and death.
“If the Tampa Police Department does not issue a media alert when they are involved in a case where an individual, a young man, a young black man ends up dead, and the community doesn’t know because they don’t let the media know…that’s concerning,” she said.
Records confirm police first sent public notice of the accident and death on November 22, more than a month after the incident.
"That's concerning. That's problematic Over a month. If it's not because of the noises that the representatives of the family are making, who knows if we would have gotten a media alert. Ever."
Hegarty said no information was ever hidden from the media.
“It is a judgment call, and it is a judgment that I made,” said Hegarty. “I think the most important thing is we met with the family.”
Hegarty said it is important that TPD has a cause of death before releasing more information, and that was part of the delay. He said once he realized the medical examiner’s report would take a while, he sent out a media alert.
But Bolton and Oropesa say it shouldn’t take this long to get closure.
“They were there. They know what happened,” said Oropesa.
“Chief said that we'll find out at the end that they are being honest,” said Bolton. “But when is the end? When will we get the answers?"
The officer involved in the accident has been taken off the streets and is currently on desk duty.
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