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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Even a Worthless Check Has Its Price

You don't necessarily think of people who pass bum checks as being especially dangerous. Tampa Police Officer David Curtis, 31, had a hunch that Dontae Morris might be, though. At 2:30am this morning, Officer Curtis stopped a red 1994 Toyota Camry driven by Cortnee Brantley because it had no visible license plate.

Dontae Morris was in the passenger's seat. When Officer Curtis entered Dontae Morris' name into the computer database, it showed that he had a misdemeanor warrant for "writing a worthless check." Before pulling Morris out of the vehicle, Officer Curtis called for another officer to assist him.

Safety in numbers, you know.

Officer Jeffrey Kocab, also 31 years of age, rolled up a minute or so later.

A minute or so after that, both officers lay bleeding in the street. Jeffrey Kocab died in that street. David Curtis passed away hours later on the operating table as doctors tried in vain to save his young life, leaving his wife a widow, and his four young children without their father.

Jeffrey Kocab's newly-minted widow is nine months pregnant.

Cortnee Brantley has been arrested. Hopefully, by the time this blog is posted—hopefully by the time I finish this sentence, Dontae Morris will be apprehended. Maybe he will be killed in a shootout with Tampa Police, and that would be okay by me. Not that he is worth the cost of the bullet that would take him out, let alone the cost of trying him before a judge and jury, and keeping him in prison for the rest of his life, or having the state take his life. Really, whatever happens to Dontae Morris is almost irrelevant, so long as he is caught and nobody else gets hurt. It is almost irrelevant because he, like the check he passed that got this whole ball of death and mayhem rolling, is worthless.


Soon Tampa will be flooded with officers from all over the country who will come to say goodbye to these two men most of them have never met. There will be covered badges and white gloves and coronets blaring and bagpipes bleating and widows sobbing. Another big show for the cameras. The procession was five miles long, they'll say.

Also, worthless.

I know-- that's very harsh, but I've been to plenty of police funerals over the years and, well, you get hardened to the spectacle. You start asking questions.

What will become of these two young women after the pageantry subsides and the ranks disperse?

Who will help David Curtis’ widow raise four children?

Who will help Jeffrey Kocab’s widow teach their baby about who its daddy was?

Who will help the first Tampa police officers who responded to the “officer down” call cope with the trauma of seeing two of their friends sprawled out in the street, the life pouring from their bodies?

An eyewitness said that Curtis and Kocab were on their backs, lying arm-in-arm in the street. How do you begin to process seeing that? Where do you begin?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what makes someone go from passing a worthless check one day to shooting two police officers in the head at 2:30 in the morning on another day. I don’t understand how that happens. I don’t understand the thought process, or lack of thought process, and I don’t understand where these two families go from here. I don’t understand what Curtis and Kocab’s coworkers do to keep from going insane and shooting everything in sight and crying in their coffees.

They say it’s stupid to throw money at a problem, but that’s what I’m going to do, because I don’t know how to do anything else. There’s a woman in Tampa who’s going to give birth any day now, and her husband’s been ripped from her life. There’s another woman who’s suddenly raising four children on her own. I won’t be in Tampa in my old EMT uniform with white gloves on, but my check, however meager, is on its way.

I hope these women— these broken women, and these families, these shattered, bewildered, stricken families, can count on yours, too.

Fallen Officers' Memorial Fund
c/o Tampa Police Department
411 N. Franklin St.
Tampa FL 33602

It won't be just another worthless check. I promise.


  1. Thanks for writing about this. It's been a pretty sad day in Tampa.

  2. I really appreciate these posts. Thank you for writing them; it's unusual to see someone so focused on the real issues that these type of crimes bring up, as opposed to the sensationalism of detailing every last aspect of the crime or the criminals' side of things.
    I was wondering if you know if there are decent job-based life insurances for these officers. I ask because my husband is a marine, and there's a fairly sizable policy attached to that. I guess I just want to feel the tiniest better about the futures ahead of the surviving family members.

  3. Barbara-- regrettably, it's all I can do. Believe me, there are sadder days ahead for Tampa, I'm afraid. Suspect is still at large as of this morning.

    Birdie-- Thank you. Regarding life insurance for P/Os, I wish I knew the answer to that question. Apparently, George Steinbrenner set up a foundation for the family members of Florida P/Os slain in the line of duty. Departmental death benefits vary according to the size and resources of specific departments. A bereft police spouse is often entitled to a full year's worth of the officer's full pay, and then a percentage thereafter, with limits placed if the surviving spouse remarries.

  4. Apron-The last I checked there was a $95,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. They'll find that motherfucker and I hope they fill him with lead.

  5. Barbara-- yes. THey've got to get him, they've just got to-- before the funerals, for officer morale more than anything else. Not only must they find him, but every single bastard who is helping him.

  6. Jeff Kocab's wife is my friend and co-worker. Her name is Sara.

    I've experienced her pregancy with her, from the first movement of the baby.

    The notion that Lily's birth will not be experienced and shared with her love is just overwhelming.

    I ask that everyone keep Sara and Lily, along with Officer Curtis' family in their prayers.


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