National News

Guns found in car involved in fatal New Year's Day party shootout

Posted January 3, 2018 9:36 p.m. EST

TAMPA -- Detectives found two guns Wednesday inside a car where two people, including a teenage girl, were killed Monday night in a shootout with security guards, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Security guards Keyon Williams, 28, and Connor Harm, 18, were hired for a teen night event billed as the "New Years Teen Pajama Jam!" inside a Tampa banquet hall at 5809 N 50th St. when they heard shots and moved toward the gunfire they said was coming from a Nissan Sentra outside.

Williams and Harm told deputies they were in fear and returned fire. Jyhaad D. Grant, 25, and Julissa Jackson, 15, were inside the black Nissan when they were fatally shot, the Sheriff's Office said.

A search of the Nissan on Wednesday revealed a 9mm pistol and a .38-caliber handgun. "Preliminary evidence," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement, suggests that both guns were fired at the scene.

Grant was on felony probation stemming from a case last year and was not allowed to have a gun. Angel Madison, Grant's girlfriend of eight years and the mother of his 2-month-old daughter, was surprised to hear that guns were found in the car and said she believes Grant would not start shooting unless he felt threatened.

"He's not the type of person to just carry a gun and show off," she said. "Even if he had a handgun, we still don't know what happened. I just want to know what happened."

The discovery was made as Hillsborough authorities investigate whether Williams and Harm were justified in shooting.

The fact that they fired their weapons while acting as security guards, lawyers said Wednesday, will likely play a role in the framework of the investigation.

"I'd guess what you really have to ask yourself is: Was their action necessary to safeguard the other people who were at the club?" said Marc Pelletier, a St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyer who previously worked as a state prosecutor. "Once the shooting starts, they're authorized to continue to fulfill their legal duty by returning fire that they were armed with."

Investigators will also consider other factors, Pelletier added: Who fired shots first? Do the security guards have a lawful right to be at the club?

Speaking generally, former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor Bill Loughery said security guards are not held to the same standards as law enforcement officers in shooting investigations.

"There's a training aspect with police where you might technically hold them more accountable for their actions because they're better trained," Loughery said.

In an interview Monday, Jackson's 16-year-old cousin told the Tampa Bay Times that gunfire was coming from another car at the scene.

The Sheriff's Office has not commented on whether any other cars were involved or whether anyone else at the scene opened fire.

Even if the security guards had in fact fired at the wrong car, they could still be protected under the legal concept "transferred intent," Pelletier and Loughery agreed.

It works like this: If the security officers fired at the wrong vehicle, their intent is still to protect themselves and others.

"From a pure legal point of view," Loughery said, "if these guys were returning fire or in danger and were shooting back and somebody got caught in the crossfire, that's just too bad."

While the Sheriff's Office continues to investigate, another probe might also be under way. Under Florida law, the security agency Harm and Williams work for, Eagle One Security Force, has five business days to notify the state that their guards discharged their guns.

Investigators with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees security licenses, will determine if Harm and Williams violated any security regulations, such as: Was their licensing and training up to date?

Generally, security agencies involved in shootings also begin preparing for civil actions.

"Whether they get cleared or not, the agency itself is going to be bracing for a lawsuit," said K.C. Poulin, chairman of the Florida Association of Security Companies.

Lawyers will look at several factors ahead of filing a negligence lawsuit, said Clearwater lawyer Josh Chilson.

"I would be concerned that any security guard has the proper training, I'd be concerned that armed security guards have proper background checks," he said, adding that the organizers of the teen night event could also be held liable.

State records show that Harm and Williams are registered armed security officers. "D" security licenses require 40 hours of training where they learn report writing and patrolling techniques, and study criminal and constitutional law.

To become an armed guard, officers need a "G" license that requires 28 hours of firearms training, plus four hours of additional training every year.

"The whole thing was a recipe for disaster," said Loughery of the shooting. "They're having some teen party.?.?. they've hired armed security guards, one of them 18. He's a teenager himself."

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.

Contact Laura C. Morel

at lmorel@tampabay.com.

Follow @lauracmorel.