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Police officers' widows file suit against suspect

TAMPA - Just because Dontae Morris is in a Hillsborough County cell awaiting trial in the slayings of two Tampa police officers doesn't mean he's deprived of some of the same comforts others enjoy on the outside. As long as Morris has enough money in his jail canteen account, he can buy chips, beef jerky, Ramen noodles, crossword puzzle books, a rubber comb or even a radio headset. That doesn't sit well with the widows of Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, the officers Morris is accused of fatally shooting nearly two years ago. So the women sued him.
Kelly Curtis and Sara Kocab each filed a lawsuit against Morris last week in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. The lawsuit says Morris deprived them of their husbands' incomes and companionship. The women say their motive is simple: Make sure their husband's killer doesn't have any money in his jail account. "I don't think he deserves that extra money to get what he pleases," said Curtis. "It's not about the money. It's about that he doesn't have all these (additional) rights and privileges." Curtis said that if she and Kocab win the suit, they'll donate any money to the Gold Shield Foundation, a nonprofit group that assists the spouses and children of police officers killed in the line of duty. The lawsuit had to be filed before June 29 because of a two-year statute of limitation on wrongful-death suits, said Mark Wright, the attorney for Kelly Curtis and Sara Kocab. "He (Morris) should not receive any benefits for what he did to these two officers," Wright said. "Our goal is that this guy doesn't profit one penny for what he did." Wright said the genesis of the suit came after Curtis and Kocab spoke to Cindy Roberts, the widow of Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts. Cindy Roberts told the two women she regretted not filing a similar lawsuit against Humberto Delgado Jr. Delgado is on Florida's death row for fatally shooting Mike Roberts in 2009, and Roberts is upset over the amount of money Delgado has in his prison canteen account. Wright anticipates the lawsuit will be heard after Morris is tried for the murder of the officers. That trial hasn't yet been set. Morris is scheduled to be tried next month in the slaying of Rodney G. Jones. At the moment, Morris doesn't have much in his jail canteen account — about $2.33, said Col. Jim Previtera, who is in charge of the Hillsborough County jails. There has been more in the account, though. Since Morris was arrested in July 2010, $2,176.40 has been deposited in his account. While most of the donations have been for $50 or less, his largest donation was for $117.20 on Dec. 22, 2011. He also had a donation for $100 on Aug. 3, 2011, Previtera said. The canteen contributions are coming from family members, Previtera said. "Every single name on (the list) here I recognize as a relative." An inmate can have a total of $1,000 in the jail canteen account at one time in the Hillsborough County jail system, Previtera said. Other items available from the canteen include coffee, small books and word search books. A popular item is Ramen noodles, which inmates prepare with hot water from the faucet, Previtera said. The items sold, which are approved by jail staff, must be priced at market rates in the area. Curtis said the money would be directed to the Gold Shield Foundation because of its support and work it has done on behalf of families of fallen officers. The organization pays for the college educations for the children and spouses of the officers who have died in the line of duty. "They help so many people," Curtis said. "It's an extreme security blanket."

jpatino@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7659

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