Sunday, January 6, 2013

Armed hate crime victim decides not to shoot attacker

LUTZ — Cameron Mohammed stood there in the Walmart parking lot, blood spouting from his head and his neck, his hand on his gun, while he watched the man who had just shot him dash into the night.

The opportunities for self defense or vengeance were plenty. He could have pulled out the .45-caliber Taurus pistol right then and put a bullet in his assailant. He could have done so when Daniel Quinnell craned his gun at point-blank range and squeezed the trigger for the first of 20 times. Or even before the attack, when deputies say Quinnell approached Mohammed and his girlfriend from behind, yelling racial epithets. Any of those instances would have been defensible in court.

But Mohammed, 24, kept his gun in the holster. Because his attacker used a pellet gun. Mohammed's was real.

"I don't know. I just couldn't do it," Mohammed said, recovering at his Tampa home two days after the attack. "I couldn't blow this guy away for something he could change later in life. I'm not going to decide this man's fate."

• • •

After two days of searching, Pasco sheriff's detectives arrested Daniel Quinnell, 25, late Thursday.

Investigators had released surveillance video of the shooting and photographs of the suspect to the media Thursday. In the video, from Walmart in Lutz, a man deputies say is Quinnell approaches the couple from behind as they walk into the store about 3 a.m. Wednesday. He asked Mohammed if he was Muslim or from the Middle East, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Mohammed said no, but, authorities said, Quinnell shot him at close range with a gas-propelled pellet gun while saying "n----- with a white girl."

Minutes after the video was broadcast on TV, Detective Lisa Schoneman's phone lit up with tips. One of the callers was Quinnell's mother. She led them to Quinnell's hotel room in the Comfort Inn off of State Road 54 in Land O'Lakes.

He was booked into the Land O'Lakes jail on a charge of aggravated assault and $20,000 bail. Investigators on Friday said they have evidence to classify the case as a hate crime, elevating the charge to a first-degree felony.

• • •

Quinnell has been troubled for some time, his pastor says.

"He has a lot of anger management problems," said the Rev. D. Thomas Porter, an associate pastor at Myrtle Lake Baptist Church in Land O'Lakes. Porter said Quinnell's family attends church there, and he has counseled Quinnell in recent years.

When he's lucid, he can be "charming," Porter said. "He's friendly and wouldn't hurt a fly."

But Quinnell's criminal record indicates those moments are interspersed with volatility. Quinnell, who declined an interview request by the Times, has been arrested 10 times in Florida since 2006, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Many of the arrests involved battery charges and violent threats.

In one arrest, he threatened to kill the deputies he had made contact with and said he had "connections" who could murder them. If he was going to do something warranting his arrest, he said, he "would just walk down State Road 54 with an assault rifle and start killing people," according to his arrest report.

Court records state Quinnell married Lana Ladell Fiongos, a woman 20 years his senior, in March 2010 in Dade City. Since then, he was arrested two times on charges of domestic battery and twice on charges of violating domestic violence injunctions. When arrested Thursday, Quinnell was on felony probation for battery on a person aged 65 or older, according to Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

As a felon, Quinnell was banned from carrying firearms. That's why, he told deputies Thursday night, he carried the pellet gun instead. He told them he burned the gun after the shooting.

When deputies told him his victim wasn't Muslim, he told them he didn't care, that "they're all the same," Schoneman told reporters.

• • •

Cameron Mohammed isn't Muslim or Middle Eastern. His parents are from Trinidad. He was born and raised in Tampa. Raised Catholic. He has had a concealed weapons permit for five years.

Friday afternoon, in the living room of the family's West Tampa home, he described the shooting. He wore the same black hooded jacket he was wearing when he was shot and pointed out the blood spots dried between the fibers.

On Monday, he is scheduled to have the pellets — one embedded in his forehead over his left eyebrow, the other just under his jaw — removed. He can't look upward without a sharp pain over his left eye.

He is taking a couple of semesters off from school at Hillsborough Community College and has recently been working at a friend's auto body shop.

He said he has been dating his girlfriend for a year and a half. He said she told him that night that Quinnell was staring at her menacingly as they pulled into the parking lot to get some food.

Mohammed says he remembers giving the man a wide berth as he passed in his car.

At some point during the shooting, Mohammed said, his girlfriend must have remembered a conversation the couple had months ago. He told her if they were ever in a dangerous situation, she should keep quiet and find safe cover.

In the Walmart surveillance footage, as the assailant sweeps from behind and levels his gun, Mohammed's girlfriend disappears behind a column, safe from fire.

After taking two pellets to his head and neck, Mohammed stands and watches the man flee, then notices a bystander who could have been hit if Mohammed had taken a shot. His hand is on his gun. But it stays in the holster.


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