The murder of three African girls by Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department
In the early morning hours of March 31, 2016, three beautiful and beloved teen-aged black girls were murdered by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department (PCOS) in St. Petersburg, FL.
Dominique Battle, 16, and Ashaunti Butler and Laniya Miller, both 15, were chased in their car at high speeds by deputies and then cruelly corralled onto a rugged winding road in a dark cemetery and into a pond by Deputy Howard Skaggs.
Skaggs, like the 16 other deputies on the scene, is trained and equipped as a “first responder.”
The back seat of every sheriff’s vehicle can be easily removed and used as a flotation device, but on that night all the cops stood by and did nothing as the car with the screaming girls slowly sank into the murky water while a police helicopter hovered above.
The girls’ car floated for five whole minutes and in their fear they held each others’ hands so tightly that their hands had to be pried apart when the girls’ lifeless bodies were later retrieved.
Despite Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s blatant lies praising the deputies for attempting to go into the water, the PCOS’ own video released about two weeks after the murders showed the cowardly deputies casually standing around cynically commenting on the death scene.
Although several years earlier Deputy Howard Skaggs had gone into a similar pond on a winter night to kill another African teenager and rescue a dog, on March 31 he did not lift a finger to save the terrified girls.
The video of the murders of Dominique, Ashaunti and Laniya records the voice of one of the killer cops saying, “I thought I heard screaming.” Another responds, “They’re done. They’re 6-7, dude. They’re f—ing done.”
At the official press conference later that morning, the accounts by Sheriff Robert Gualtieri, known in the African community as “Killer Bob,” were awash with lies and slander to justify the murders. Gualtieri blamed the girls, their parents and the entire African community of St. Petersburg for the deaths.
In a time when the police murders of African people are a daily occurrence—each murder more horrifying than the last—the slaughter of these young teenagers, loved and grieved by their families and community stands out for the horror and cruelty waged against such young African victims barely out of childhood.
The girls were murdered twice: once by the sheriffs on March 31 and again in the media in the attempt to destroy their character and humanity.
What happened to the three girls is the kind of brutal death that the colonial state doles out only to African people in this country. If Dominique, Laniya and Ashaunti were white this scenario would have been quite different.
Dominique’s mother, Kunde Mwamvita, is a fierce warrior, determined that justice will be served not only for her daughter and her daughter’s two best friends, but for all African people terrorized and murdered every day by the police throughout the U.S.
Kunde and the Committee for Justice for the Three Drowned Girls are fighting to bring down Sheriff Gualtieri, and to demand the indictment of Deputy Howard Skaggs on first degree murder charges. They must pay a serious price for the murders and cover up of their crime. They must pay reparations.
As Kunde has warned, “What happened at night will come out in the light.”
Police terror in the pre-dawn hours of March 31
The first thing that Sheriff Gualtieri did after the murders was to spin his web of lies and deception and begin his slander of the girls and their families.
Gualtieri said there was no high-speed chase of the girls’ car, even though the sheriff department’s own records show that at 3:30 am on March 31, 2016, Pinellas County Deputy Sgt. Kristopher Wendel initiated a chase of 90-plus miles per hour of a 1998 Honda Accord, the car driven by one of the three girls.
A USA Today report shows that the deadly practice of high-speed police chases kills at least one person every single day in this country.. Police chases have murdered more than 11,000 people since 1979 and have injured thousands of others.
In theory high-speed chases for traffic violations and property offenses are banned by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department. In reality there are about 77 high-speed chases a year by the PCOS, with 134 high speed chases by the sheriff’s department in 2013 alone.
In September, 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that due to racial profiling of Africans, “black men have every reason to run from the cops — and their fleeing cannot be considered a suspicious act,” according to thefreethoughtproject.com.
It is the natural and sane response of African people to flee any contact with the occupying army known as police in the U.S., given the well-known death rate for Africans encountering killer cops.
After a short period Sgt. Wendel was told to desist with the chase.
Sgt. Wendel’s stated reason for pursuing the girls was that their car’s headlights were not on, only the parking lights were on. The video released by the PCOS shows clearly visible headlights on the car driven by the girls.
In any case, the “probable cause” used by the deputy that led them to execute the brutal death sentence for the three girls was their headlights!
Wendel stopped the official chase when ordered to do so, but radioed Deputy Howard Skaggs, the head of the sinister DUI squad that the PCOS calls the “Wolf Pack”.
Although this situation had nothing to do with driving while intoxicated, it seems that Skaggs in an unmarked car without a dash-cam is often used to pursue African drivers in particular after the high-speed chase has been called off.
Skaggs pursues the drivers menacingly and sometimes fatally without the identifying blue flashing lights.
Drivers have no legal responsibility to stop for an unidentified car without flashing police lights.
Skaggs is a master at carrying out the violent arm of the colonial state that murders African people daily with impunity. In 2006 he produced a video that aired on the TV show “Cops,” demonstrating the sheriff’s vehicle using the PT Maneuver ramming a motorist’s car in its side.
In northern St. Petersburg the girls’ car exited the freeway tailed by Skaggs’ unmarked car and at least one other sheriff’s car threateningly behind Skaggs. The girls basically had nowhere to go but into a dark graveyard—the Royal Palms Cemetery.
The girls were essentially corralled down the unlit cemetery road, going 35 mph—way too fast to navigate the broken, winding path.
According to police reports Skaggs claimed to know the cemetery well, fully aware that at the end of the rough dark road the only options would be to run into a tree, a gravestone or the pond, which in the darkness would be invisible to the girls.