A Winter Haven mother said goodbye to her son on Christmas, not knowing it would be the last holiday they would spend together.
Michael Taylor, 17, was shot and killed by Lakeland police in front of a late-night eatery in the early hours of Wednesday.
The officers had been called to Salem’s Fresh Eats, Florida Ave. and Memorial Blvd., at about 2:30 a.m. to disperse a crowd of nearly 200 people. The restaurant is a popular hangout for young people when a local club closes. It has since changed its hours of operation.
When officers arrived, more than 100 people remained, including Taylor, who was in the parking lot, behind the wheel of a stolen Chevy Camaro, according to police.
“The driver of the Camaro violently accelerated forward, ignoring multiple commands to stop, and attempted to run over an officer who had to jump in between two parked vehicles to avoid being hit,” police spokesman Gary Gross said in a news release. “Officers were forced to open fire.”
Police released surveillance video of the incident, in which Taylor is seen driving between cars toward Officer Markais Neal. The video shows Neal and other officers draw their guns and open fire into the windshield and rear of the vehicle. Neal narrowly avoids being hit by jumping out of the way.
Taylor tried to flee the scene and hit a utility pole and a parked car. He was eventually removed from the vehicle and taken to an area hospital where he died. Police said they recovered a loaded gun from the car.
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On Saturday, his mother agreed to speak to the media, only if identified by her first name, Valentine.
Valentine said she last saw her son on Christmas Day.
“The last thing I remember was the vehicle picking him up. Before that, Christmas Day, he was excited, he was happy. He was fun all around,” she told reporters. “No matter what is put out there, it won’t deter my mind from the image I last seen on Christmas Day. That’s the image I’ll remember and all I’ll remember of him and nothing else.”
“We spoke Christmas. And just to know that they just took him away like that, you know, a couple hours after,” said Taylor’s cousin, Ricardo Irving. “We just sad, just heartbroken right now.”
Taylor’s mother, surrounded by Black Lives Matter activists, urged the public to remain calm.
“Stay peaceful. Stay calm. Protests, I’m not against it, as long as it’s peaceful and getting the right message across,” Valentine said.
Valentine and others in the Lakeland community believe the video raises even more questions about the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.
“We need answers as to how this transpired,” Valentine said. “I’ve never seen a traffic stop like that. Usually, lights come from behind or you’re given a warning. I did not see that on the video or nowhere.”
“These [officers] were three younger individuals. They were closely, almost freshly right out of training camp. So, we want to know what are [sic] being taught to them, what caused them to think in such nature, that they had to pull out a gun on first instinct, with so many individuals in the crowd around,” added Jarvis Washington of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk.
“Mr. Larry [Police chief Larry Giddens] also made a statement, he was saying how the scene was chaotic. If that were the case, why make it even more chaotic by shooting into a crowd of people?” Washington continued.
Valentine said her son had a good personality and loved sports. He played football for a private school that “came tearing down the doors,” for him, but he never got used to going there, his mother said.
“He was just a fun person to be around. He is a great kid. He was a great kid and we all miss him,” said Valentine. “He was a great kid that made no more poor choices than anybody did.”
A vigil was held at 7 p.m. on Saturday at 199 East Lake Silver Lake Drive NE in Winter Haven.