Sheriff’s Office continuing to interview witnesses in an effort to identify assailant
(Editor’s note: This story was updated late in the morning on June 3 to provide new information from the Sarasota Police Department.)
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation into a May 30 shooting on Siesta Key that left one female victim with non-life-threatening injuries, Media Relations Specialist Megan Krahe told The Sarasota News Leader late Wednesday afternoon.
The incident occurred near the intersection of Avenida Messina and Avenida Navarra, as noted in a news release the agency provided on May 30.
Just after 4 p.m. on Memorial Day, deputies responded to a report of a fight that began near Beach Access 3, “involving possibly 10 or more juveniles,” the release said. “Several gunshots were heard,” the release added.
Additional possible gunshots were heard a short time later near the intersection of Avenida Messina and Ocean Boulevard, the release continued; however, no victims were located at that secondary location.
Deputies “believe this incident is isolated,” the release pointed out, with no danger to the general public.
Detectives on the scene that day have been following up on active leads and information in an effort to identify all the subjects involved, the release said.
Via Krahe’s June 1 email to the News Leader, Maj. Ryan Brown, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s Law Enforcement Division, explained that a lieutenant had provided ABC7 “a very basic description” of the presumed suspect in the shooting: a teenage black male, approximately 6 feet 2 inches tall, who was wearing a white shirt and blue shorts, and who possibly had dreadlock-style hair. “Detectives are still going through surveillance footage and speaking with witnesses to get additional suspect information,” Brown added in the email. “As soon as we have more, we will certainly notify all of our media partners,” he wrote.
Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to contact the Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Investigations Section at 941-861-4900 or provide an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers at 941-366-TIPS, the release added.
In a May 30 post that the News Leader found on the NextDoor app, a woman who was with her husband at The Hub Baha Grill — at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Ocean Boulevard — wrote that around 4:30 or 4:45 p.m., they “heard rapid gunshots,” which they thought were coming from the area of the Beach Club, which is across Ocean Boulevard from The Hub. “People from both patios [were] running inside screaming [about an] active shooter,” the woman continued. The manager of The Hub told everyone to “hit the floor,” the woman added, and directed people to close the hurricane shutters and doors and barricade the doors with tables.
“Terrifying!!!” the woman wrote. “Still not sure of entire facts but we believe there were 3 shootings, one behind Beach Club, one between Summer House [restaurant] & Broken Egg & one at Circle K. What is this world coming to, our sweet sleepy Village becoming a gang hang out … so scary & sad,” she added.
A man who responded to the post pointed out that one woman was shot after a fight broke out, and the woman sustained minor injuries.
The first writer maintained that she and her husband heard “at least 8 gunshots.”
Another man pointed out in the comments section, “So sad. Not the same village after the MTV [Siesta Key] show promoted a different image and drew a different crowd, bringing some unwanted attention. I’ve noticed our recent visitors are not so nice, especially those loitering around the Circle K [which is located at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Avenida Navarro].”
Several years ago, Siesta businessman and chiropractor Dr. Gary Kompothecras persuaded MTV to air the reality show, which at first featured his son, Alex, and a number of Alex’s friends. The show recently began its fifth season.
That man added on NextDoor, “I remember when our friendly village was just hippies, fishermen, mellow retirees and beach lovers.”
Another woman wrote that she and her party were “stuck in the [Siesta] traffic” on the afternoon of Memorial Day. They did not hear the gunshots, she added, but they “decided to get out of there when all the police [and fire-rescue units] passed near us. We went down a back road and the police had about 8-9 men sitting in the grass and questioning them.”
The first female writer pointed out that Siesta Key “has always been friendly and very safe, [but] there are bad areas in Sarasota as with any city. It seemed today there were a rough bunch of thugs in the Village,” she continued. “I pray this doesn’t become the norm.”
Rumors and facts
The News Leader this week also asked the Sheriff’s Office and the Sarasota Police Department about rumors that had been spreading on Siesta Key in the aftermath of the shooting.
One person told the News Leader that the youths involved in the fight that led to the shooting initially were on Lido Key Beach, but that a Sarasota Police officer had warned them away from that location.
Genevieve Judge, the public information officer for the Police Department, responded in a June 1 email that, after a thorough search of that agency’s records, it appeared that the juveniles were in the area of Nora Patterson Bay Island Park, on the north end of Siesta Key, just west of the Siesta Drive drawbridge, before they headed to the beach.
Judge added that the Records Division staff could find no sign that any reports had been filed, and the officer who possibly would have asked the juveniles to leave the park would not be back on duty until June 3. She would check with him then, at the News Leader’s request, she wrote, to find out if he could provide her more details.
Nora Patterson Bay Island Park is in two segments. The north side is within the City of Sarasota’s jurisdiction.
After Judge was able to talk with the officer on June 3, she told the News Leader that the juveniles were not in Nora Patterson Bay Island Park after all. In her June 3 email, she wrote that the officer had shared with her that there were no reports taken, but he and other officers believe the individuals who were involved in the Siesta shooting were on Lido Beach and in the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido before they headed to Siesta.
“There were no major incidents in the city,” Judge added, “but SPD [Sarasota Police Department] officers did discourage the group from causing problems around the Lido area and by having SPD officers discouraging them they ended up leaving the area.”
In her June 1 email, Judge noted, “That same officer also assisted [the Sheriff’s Office] once a car that was believed to be involved in the county incident came off the island …”
She pointed out that because the Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency handling the investigation, she could provide no further information about that assistance.
The News Leader also saw Facebook posts about the incident that alleged that juveniles had been fighting on Siesta Beach off and on throughout much of Memorial Day.
One woman, who indicated that she and her family were visiting from the Midwest, complained that people in her party called law enforcement officers “several times and [deputies] said there was nothing they could do. This went on for hours,” she continued.
Additionally, she recorded a video of a group of young people who she said were crowded around others fighting on the beach. However, she noted that members of that group “threatened to kill me if I didn’t stop recording.”
The woman added that several families left the beach because of the fight.
Both homeowners and property owners begged law enforcement officers “to do something,” she noted again, but they did not.
When the News Leader asked Maj. Brown of the Sheriff’s Office’s Law Enforcement Division about those statements, he responded in the June 1 email, “While I can’t say for sure how the deputy may have explained to complainants who called about the disturbance on the beach, I learned they did not have any specific victims, and no crimes [involving persons] could be determined. Without a victim or discernable crime, the most deputies might be able to do is encourage the group to disperse.”
Brown did note that an alleged battery occurred at one beach access, “and one person was indeed arrested … And although it was close in proximity and timeframe to the shooting on Avenida Messina, the two incidents are completely unrelated,” he added with emphasis. (See the related article in this issue.)
Yet another rumor the News Leader heard on May 31 was that the Sheriff’s Office did not have sufficient staffing on the Key over the holiday weekend because of COVID-19 cases among its personnel.
When the News Leader asked Brown about that, he replied in the email, “The sheriff’s office is not currently short-staffed including over the weekend. In fact, our Law Enforcement Division specifically increased staffing to accommodate the influx of people for the holiday, as I’m sure you are familiar with for past events.”
The Community Affairs Division of the Sheriff’s Office often points to the fact that the agency does bring on more personnel to handle holiday crowds and special events on the Key.