A Tampa police officer who shot and killed an 18-year-old man in October will not be charged, State Attorney Mark Ober said Friday.
Kobvey Igbuhay was killed Oct. 26 after being pursued by police who suspected him and three other teens of car theft. Officer Jimmy Houston shot the teen as the two struggled in chest-deep water in a swamp off Humphrey Street west of Dale Mabry Highway, according to police.
After reconstructing events, interviewing witnesses and officers on the scene, and reviewing photographs, aerial surveillance videos, and footage taken from the University of Tampa, Houston was determined to be justified in the shooting death of Igbuhay, Ober said in a letter to the Tampa Police Department.
“Officer Houston was entitled to use any force which he reasonably believed was necessary to defend himself while making the arrest,” Ober said in his letter. “The evidence supports officer Houston’s testimony that he needed to use deadly force out of fear that the unknown suspect would drown him.”
Harvey Igbuhay, Kobvev’s father, said he is not convinced by the investigation.
“I told them we’ll fight for my son; I’m gonna fight for the city,” he said. “… They don’t know what they took from me and I’m just trying to make a point.”
Police said the incident that led to Kobvey Igbuhay’s death began around 2:30 a.m. when an officer spotted him, Dominic Robles, 18, Shakira Rodriguez, 18, and Michael Lopez, 16, inside a Ford Expedition. Rodriguez was Kobvey Igbuhay’s girlfriend and 10-weeks pregnant with his child.
After the officer ran the plates and found that the Expedition had been reported stolen, a chase began near the corner of North Nebraska Avenue and Lake Avenue.
As the pursuit escalated, the officer broke off, alerting the police helicopter of the location and direction of the car. The stolen vehicle then was followed from high above, police said.
The Expedition stopped behind the First Korean Presbyterian Church, 4307 Humphrey St., and the suspects jumped out of the vehicle and ran. Using an infrared device that detects body heat, the crew was able to track the four suspects as they fled into the swamp near the church.
Police in patrol cars converged on the area, capturing Robles and Lopez almost immediately, police said.
Three tracking dogs were brought in, including Houston’s 6-year-old German Shepherd, Titus. Houston was trailing the remaining suspects in chest-deep water when he slipped, fell and lost hold of Titus’ leash, the letter says.
Titus locked in on the suspects’ scent and continued to track them. Houston commanded Titus to heel by using his remote vibrate button, but the dog did not respond, the letter says. Houston then gave verbal heel commands and sent an electronic pulse to Titus’ collar, but again he did not respond.
Because Titus had been an obedient dog, the letter says, his non-response was unusual. Houston trailed Titus to the embankment, where he shined his flashlight and spotted Kobvey Igbuhay holding Titus under water in a headlock. Police said Kobvey Igbuhay submerged Titus long enough that the dog lost consciousness.
Houston, who was wearing standard-issue police gear weighing about 35 pounds, approached Kobvey Igbuhay. The teen jumped on Houston and tried to push him under water causing the officer to fear for his life, police said.
Houston fired one shot, hitting Kobvey Igbuhay, police said. Kobvey Igbuhay died hours later at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Neither the officer nor Titus was injured.
Houston, a 15-year veteran of the department, was placed on administrative leave, standard procedure after an officer is involved in a shooting.
With Houston’s experience, Harvey Igbuhay said, he should have been able to fight off a 5-foot 4-inch tall, 120-pound teen.
“Fifteen-year veterans; what happens to their training?” Harvey Igbuhay said.
In her initial interview during the investigation, Rodriguez said she did not witness the shooting, but later retracted her statement saying Kobvey Igbuhay never fought with Titus or entered the water. Rodriguez said she lied during the first interview because she was scared.
Ober’s letter says although Houston, Kobvey Igbuhay and Titus are obscured by trees at the moment of the shooting, surveillance footage shows Titus make contact with Kobvey Igbuhay near the water’s edge before their struggle continues into the water near the edge of the tree line.
During their fight, Kobvey Igbuhay and Titus went in and out of visibility, the letter says. After Houston enters the water to encounter Kobvey Igbuhay, the men and the dog become obscured by trees, at which point the gunshot is heard.
Rodriguez can be seen about 10 yards from where the shot was fired, the letter says.