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St. Petersburg police: Woman tried to coerce witness, kidnapped her child

ST. PETERSBURG — A 35-year-old woman tried to run over her husband on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, according to police, the woman tried to coerce a witness into changing her account and kidnapped the witness' baby.

The baby was returned to the mother unharmed, police said, and the woman who took her was arrested.

"Thank you," Anita Johnson, 33, told officers as they returned her baby to her in a video recorded by police. She declined to comment.

The whole thing started Wednesday at 3:48 p.m., according to St. Petersburg police, at 4720 First Ave. N. Lorraine Butler and husband Robert Rainey had lived there for just a few weeks when police said Butler tried to run Rainey over with her car.

Rainey was not injured. During the investigation, officers interviewed Johnson, who lives next door. She witnessed the incident, and has a 2½-month-old-daughter, London Baker.

The next morning, police said Butler forced her way into Johnson's home. Butler demanded that Johnson change her statement to the police.

Johnson felt she could be in danger, said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez. So Johnson drove her child and Butler to the St. Petersburg Police Department at 1300 First Ave. N.

While Johnson went inside to alert police about the situation, Butler stayed in the car with the baby. But when Johnson and officers left the building, police said, her car was still there, but her baby and Butler were both gone.

Officers searched for her around headquarters and sent a team to Butler's home.

An as yet-unidentified person had given Butler and the child a ride back to the neighborhood, police said. When Butler saw officers outside the house, Fernandez said, she tried to walk — then run — away with Johnson's baby. But Butler was captured.

The child was not injured. Mother and daughter were separated for about 30 minutes.

Butler and Rainey have lodged allegations of domestic violence against each other in the past.

In November 2015, Butler was arrested and accused of punching Rainey in the face, breaking his glasses, according to an arrest report. In June she was arrested again after police said she punched and slapped her husband, ripped his shirt and bent his glasses. Butler said she was defending herself. In October 2016, police arrested the husband, saying Rainey struck his wife twice. However, the charges were dropped a month later.

Rainey filed a request for a restraining order against his wife on Jan. 4, accusing her of trying to hit him with her car. "She's saying if I can't have you nobody else will," he wrote. "She is trying to get people to hurt me."

The injunction was dismissed when the husband failed to show up for a court hearing.

Butler was arrested Thursday on charges from both incidents: kidnapping, aggravated assault with a motor vehicle, burglary, tampering with a witness and false imprisonment. She was being held without bail Thursday in the Pinellas County jail.

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