On August 30, Hillsborough County deputies shot and killed 22-year-old Lavonia “Daddyman” Riggins in his home in Clair-Mel, a community to the southeast of Tampa. The killing happened during a SWAT raid for two grams of marijuana.
In the early morning, while a SWAT team surrounded the house, Deputy Caleb Johnson broke through a window into Riggins’ bedroom. The deputy fatally shot Riggins as he got out of bed. Riggins was unarmed and had been asleep.
Riggins was well known in Clair-Mel and since the killing, the community has taken to the streets to demand justice. On the night of September 1, five people were arrested during protests on 78th Street. The Git-No-Go on 78th where Riggins worked has become a gathering spot and memorial, with signs saying “RIP Daddyman” and “F— The Police.”
After the killing, the Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Bay Times quickly moved to portray Riggins as a dangerous criminal. However, Liberation News participated in protests Sept. 3 , learning from Riggins’ neighbors, friends and family who the young man really was.
“I would want people to know that my brother is a great and loving person,” said Devon Riggins. “It’s crazy that they took him while he was changing his life around. He was always home with his mother. He wanted to take care of her. ”
“He was so funny. He was Black with these beautiful white teeth,” said Pewe, also a brother of Riggins. “He was a jokester, he liked to clown, he was a funny guy. And all he wanted to do was make Ms. Jesse proud. She adopted him and his two brothers. He was just trying to make a living and take care of his family.”
“He was like an icon,” said Anthony Pledger, “one of the best people you’ll ever meet in your life.”
The statement released by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office claimed that deputies believed Riggins was armed. However, Riggins’ brothers and friends all agree that Riggins never touched guns, a fact which he had previously made clear to deputies.
Riggins, who lived in the neighborhood since he was 6 years old, was widely respected.
“My kids spoke of him very highly,” Brandi Jeffrey told Liberation. “They’d walk to Clair-Mel Elementary and every morning he gave them dollars, made sure they had snacks. When I picked them up in the evening, he watched them until I got here.”
“The person we know is not the person who the news is trying to make him out to be. He’s a good person,” said B. “I personally knew him. Daddyman was always telling other people keep they head up and everything gon be alright.”
That night, 150 people gathered outside the Git-N-Go and held signs and balloons in honor of Riggins. Multiple cars blasted “F— the Police” by Lil Boosie as protesters again shut down 78th Street. The gathering remained strong late into the night despite the presence of over 40 sheriffs.
Riggins’ friends, family and neighbors say they want Deputy Caleb Johnson indicted and convicted in court.
“I want the person that shot him to be in life in prison. My brother was in his bed. He didn’t even try to run, the house was surrounded,” said Devon Riggins.
“We ain’t stopping, dawg. We ain’t stopping. We’ll be out in this b— every night,” said a friend of Riggins. “I want to see the police go up in front of a judge, like if I shot someone, I’d have to go up in front of a judge.”
“We want the police officer who killed him in prison,” said B. “Why is he getting paid when he murdered him? How can you fear for your life when you’re surrounded by a bunch of other deputies and SWAT, when you have these high powered weapons and this dude was in his sleep? We want an apology too.”
Supporters can follow the hashtag #Justice4Levonia on social media to learn about upcoming events and how to get involved.