Meet Jason Westcott, Your Latest, Needless, Inexcusable Drug War Casualty

By Radley Balko
Jul. 07, 2014

Add another body to the drug war pile. From the Tampa Bay Times, here is the story of the death of Jason Westcott.
A man who had partied at Westcott's home was plotting to rob him. An itinerant motorcycle mechanic, Westcott didn't have much -- two televisions and a handgun that once belonged to his brother were perhaps the most valuable possessions in his 600-square-foot house in Seminole Heights -- but he was terrified by his would-be intruder's threats to kill him.

Police tracked down the suspect and warned him to stay away. Westcott, those close to him said, was left with a word of advice from the investigating officers: If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.

On the night of May 27, as armed men streamed through his front door, Westcott grabbed his gun. But the 29-year-old didn't have a chance to shoot before he died in a volley of gunfire. And those who killed him weren't robbers.

They were police officers from the same agency he had enlisted to protect his home.

In the span of a few months, Westcott had become the target of an intensive drug investigation. On that Tuesday in May -- a night when he typically baby­sat his sister's children at his house, according to his mother -- he was fatally shot by a Tampa Police Department SWAT team executing a search warrant for marijuana.

Authorities told news reporters who swarmed to the scene that Westcott was dealing drugs and had sold pot multiple times, armed, to undercover Tampa police officers. During the raid, officials said, he "raised his gun and threatened the officers," who killed him in self-defense.

A month later, newly disclosed information raises questions about the narcotics investigation that led police to Westcott's door.
So the same police department who warned Westcott that a dangerous man wanted to kill him then sent an armed team of cops into his home in a nighttime raid. We're told over and over again by police departments that cops do extensive investigations of suspects before conducting these raids. How, then, could Tampa police not have known that Westcott had reported the threats against him a few months earlier? I guess I'm assuming they didn't know. If they did know, that's a hell of a lot worse.

And then there's this:
Police initially said that the investigation of Westcott's alleged drug dealing began because of neighbors' complaints. However, when the Times could find no neighbors who had called police and no records of the complaints, the department revised this assertion, saying the case began with a tip from the same informer who later bought the marijuana.
Revised is a generous word, here. A mistake would be if someone in the department misattributed a statement from one witness to another. Telling the press that a drug investigation that ended with a fatal SWAT raid began because of neighbor complaints when it really began because of a tip from a police informant (who are often paid, or given consideration in their own criminal cases) isn't a mistake. It's a lie. It makes the police look as if they were merely obliging a community in need of their protection, not initiating a commando raid based on a tip from a shady source and what looks to have been no corroborating investigation at all.

Ultimately, this violent, volatile raid came after the informant claimed to have bought $200 worth of pot. That's why Westcott is dead: $200 worth of pot. Friends and neighbors say Westcott and his boyfriend were recreational pot smokers, but hardly major dealers. They were often broke. Their utilities were often disconnected. They just occasionally sold a joint or two to friends. The police found about $2.00 worth of pot the house. There's no misplaced decimal there. Two dollars.

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