An attempted armed robbery at the Shop N’ Suk convenience store in St. Petersburg became very loud and annoying when police engaged the suspect, Russell Zilsky of Pass-A-Grille Beach, in a prolonged shout-out that saw passers-by and onlookers seeking cover from stray epithets.
SPPD spokesperson Abigail Flute says, “Like other law enforcement agencies, we have been taking steps to improve how we’re perceived within our community. A big part of that is undergoing training to learn how to de-escalate tense situations without violence. Based on today’s results, you’d have to say, aside from a couple of casual casualties, the training is a success!”
Witnesses say the incident began when Zilsky entered the store and demanded all the money in the cash register. The cashier, Sharon Robinson of south St. Pete became the first casualty when she asked Zilsky if he was armed and he screamed back, “DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT!!”
She was treated and released at the scene later for minor ringing in her ear and a Diet Coke spill on her smock that occurred because she was startled . “It’s like, ‘damn, man; I’m standing right here’, you know?”
Officers arrived quickly and began yelling at Zilsky, telling him to please stop robbing the store and to come out. “When we arrive on the scene, we have to immediately assume the worst. There’s no time to assess the threat level”, said Shane Corporal, one of the responding officers. “That’s why we immediately start yelling very, very loudly.”
The situation escalated when Zilsky responded by yelling back, but with swear words and insults, to which police responded in kind. “He’s the one who started making it personal so we were well within our rights to say the same things to him”, says Officer Corporal. “That’s the rules of engagement.”
Two innocent bystanders were wounded in the exchange by stray comments. One, an overweight woman who declined to give her name but said “Hey, I’m working on it”, who had her feelings hurt when Zilsky called one of the police officers a “lard ass”.
The other was a four-year-old boy who was watching events unfold with his mother when he heard the word “shit” for the first time. It’s unclear who actually said the foul sobriquet. “I didn’t say that shit”, said Zilsky at that time. “Oops. Maybe I did.” The boy’s mother, Laura Hammerton, says it doesn’t matter. “They’re all grown men. They should know better.” Officer Corporal says, “She isn’t wrong. But again, he started it.”
The situation went on for about 45 minutes before Zilsky finally became hoarse. He surrendered, emerging from the store with his hands up, one holding a styrofoam cup with hot water, lemon and honey in it that he totally didn’t pay for, and he was shot in the face by a SPPD sniper, killing him instantly.
“The suspect is now in custody,” says Ms. Flute. “He’s dead but that’s a form of custody, wouldn’t you say? So overall, we’re going to call this a good day!”