Underage Drinking, Drug Use Led to Fatal Shooting, Deputies Say
A tragic combination of alcohol, marijuana, K2 and a loaded gun led to the death of a Dunedin teen horsing around with his friends, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Michael Parker, 17, has been arrested and charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Justin Cleveland, 18, at his Union Street home late Wednesday night.
Cleveland was shot while hanging out with friends, all teenagers, who were drinking alcohol and using marijuana and the synthetic drug K2, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"We have kids who should not be using drugs, much less alcohol. They are all young kids well known to deputies in Northern Pinellas," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a news conference Friday afternoon.
On Wednesday night, Parker and Cleveland were hanging out with two teens, who are 17 and 18, Gualtieri said. Earlier that day, those two had met with a 16-year-old from Dunedin who had a gun for sale. The 16-year-old apparently had obtained the firearm from a robbery at an unknown location in Palm Harbor.
The boys traded $125 worth of marijuana for the 9mm gun, which one of the boys apparently wanted for security, the sheriff said.
Teens Were Horsing Around When Gun Went Off
The boys left the teen and went back to Cleveland's Union Street residence, where the sheriff says they smoked marijuana, used K2 and drank alcohol.
"There was a lot of horseplay going on Wednesday evening with the gun," Gualtieri said.
Parker put a round in the chamber. Cleveland had a pipe with K2 in one hand, the sheriff said.
During the horseplay, the magazine was removed from the gun with the thought that it would keep it from firing. There was more bantering, and Parker pulled the trigger, killing Cleveland, the sheriff said.
The boys fled Cleveland's residence in a "panic," Gualtieri said. They drove to Pasco County, disposed of the gun in a pond and agreed not tell anybody, the sheriff said.
Sheriff's Office Got the Tip a Day Later
The weight of what happened was bothering one of the boys. He told his father. The sheriff's office received a call about the Union Street shooting Thursday night around 10:30, the sheriff said.
Detectives found Cleveland sitting at his residence with a gunshot wound to the head. Detectives worked all night on the case, the sheriff said.
Authorities found Parker in Clearwater. After a brief negotiation with the sheriff's office, they arrested Parker and booked him on a manslaughter charge at the Juvenile Assessment Center.
The alcohol was obtained from convenience stores in North Pinellas, and the drugs were purchased on the streets, according to the sheriff's office.
The investigation is ongoing.
Two Have Ties to Neighborhood Duck Shooting
A Sheriff's spokeswoman confirmed both the suspect Michael Parker and the 17-year-old witness are linked to the shooting deaths of two Muscovy ducks on Alamo Lane in November, which sparked a recent citywide debate on BB gun laws.
On Nov. 7, Paloma Lake neighbors said they were disturbed to see four young men in their late teens or early 20s, one carrying a “big brown gun” — discovered to be a pellet gun — shooting at ducks in the neighborhood retention pond.
When deputies were called to the scene, they could not arrest any of the boys because the ducks were an unprotected, invasive species, and no laws against firing pellet guns existed. (Read the full story here.)
As a result of the incident, leaders unanimously agreed to outlaw BB gun use in all public parks, places or right-of-way areas (to include roads, highways or streets) within the city on Thursday.
"We were not aiming or discharging our weapon at your children," a commenter who claimed to be one of the boys involved in the duck shooting wrote in a comment on the November article. "Guns shoot were you tell them and nowhere else."