Recent Tampa police killing punctuates long-running accountability discussion

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Tearful family members and friends of Kobvey Igbuhay, an 18-year-old male who was shot and killed by police on the morning of Oct. 26, pleaded with Tampa City Council Thursday to investigate the incident in which the death occurred.

Their pleas occurred within the greater context of cries for a civilian review board of police incidents and practices that are potentially in some way discriminatory or involve questionable use of force.

“We believe, I think, that what is being proposed to be put into an ordinance has too much administrative control and has too narrow of a scope and so the issues that actually concern people that live in the neighborhoods that are most highly impacted will never be addressed by this board,” said Rev. Russell Meyer, a community activist who has been vocal on the issue.

The call for such a board was sparked in large part by the revelation that Tampa police were engaged in a concerted effort to target low-income African-American residents on bicycles at a disproportionately high rate, ostensibly as a way to uncover possible larger offenses. The case so many testified on did not involve an African-American youth; Igbuhay was Filipino and police say he used force in an attempt to avoid arrest, something his family denies.

“We have concerns," said an attorney for the family. "We have concerns that the level of force used by the Tampa Police Department was excessive. Why was deadly force used on an unarmed teenage boy? What other options did Tampa Police Department have to safely detain this teenager, and why was he taken away?”

The family was joined by activists as well as family members of other unarmed men whose deaths they blamed on police in recent years.

To the activists, the death is another rallying point in their cry for an independent panel to to review such cases. The city is in the process of developing one now, but the activists who pushed the city to adopt such a board in the first place say the model the city is employing does not have enough teeth.

Police are currently reviewing the incident that resulted in Igbuhay's death, the details of which are in dispute. One key aspect of the events the night of his death was his reported use of force against a police officer and the near-drowning of a police dog, also considered an officer of the law.

Here's what allegedly happened that night, according to the Tampa Bay Times:

Igbuhay and three friends reportedly stole a car, later attempting to evade police on foot and leading law enforcement officers into a wooded wetland area. Police say Officer Jimmy Houston and a police dog, a 6-year-old German shepherd named Titus, caught up to Igbuhay, who tried to drown the dog in the water in which they stood, which Houston said was chest-deep in places. The dog fell unconscious and began to float on the water's surface. Houston, after he "pulled Titus out of harm's way," returned to Igbuhay, who allegedly tried to push him underwater. After some struggle, Houston fired at Igbuhay. He was able to revive Titus with the help of another officer, but Igbuhay died later at the hospital.

But as TPD looks into the case, Igbuhay's kin, including some who were at the scene, say the police account is inaccurate. They argue there's no way his 5'5", 120-pound frame would have allowed him to overpower a large dog (though it's unclear how deep the water was in the exact spot the incident took place). They also described him as a protective, conscientious person who was about to be a father.

“This should have never happened to him," said Shirley Buhain, who identified herself as his aunt. "If the TPD can't protect our kids, who's going to protect our kids? We want an investigation for him. We want justice. There's nothing that can bring him back...We just want justice for Kobvey."

Activist Kelly Benjamin called on the council to conduct its own investigation of what happened the morning of Oct. 26.

“This 18-year-old should be alive today. There's no reason for this, no matter what the circumstances are. He should be alive and continuing his life. It is wrong. You know in your hearts what is happening in this community is wrong. This validates all of the people who stood up here all summer long talking about accountability for the police department. Use your subpoena power and find out what happened in that incident.”

Council members did not talk about the case itself, but seemingly without displaying any partiality, Council Chair Frank Reddick did offer his sympathies to Igbuhay's family.

“My condolences go out to the family and I hope that everything works out in a satisfactory way,” he said.

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