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Miami shootout suspect considered career criminal

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CURT ANDERSON | January 21, 2011 09:48 PM EST | AP

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MIAMI — By the time police came to arrest him on murder charges, 22-year-old Johnny Simms – whose many tattoos included the word "savage" and images laced with violence – already had a long criminal history that began with theft and trespass charges when he was 14.

The Miami man killed in a Thursday shootout that left two police officers dead was what police called a career criminal: He'd been arrested for cocaine and marijuana trafficking, burglary, car theft and armed robbery, according to a copy of Simms' criminal history obtained Friday by The Associated Press. He was arrested 11 times as a juvenile and became more violent as the years passed.

Simms finally went to prison in March 2007 for grand theft and robbery convictions, getting out on probation in February 2009, according to state prison records. It would be only a few months before he was arrested again on robbery and cocaine charges and sent back to prison in August 2010.

Prison officials meticulously documented Simms' numerous tattoos that appeared to reflect his criminal lifestyle. Those included an AK-47 image and the word "gun" on his left hand; the word "savage" on his right hand; several dollar signs; the words "Lil Pimp" on his right arm; and "10-20-Life" on his right hand – a reference to Florida's mandatory sentences for using guns in crimes.

Simms' second stretch in prison lasted a few weeks, mainly because of credit for time served in jail. He was released Sept. 3, 2010. His probation provided no requirements for keeping tabs on him.

"This is a type of probation that is always objected to by prosecutors," said Ed Griffith, spokesman for Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

A few weeks after his release came the slaying that ultimately led to the fatal police shootout.

According to a Miami police affidavit, Simms overheard a phone conversation involving his sister, 20-year-old Shenica Simms, who had gotten into an argument with a man outside a battered-looking apartment building where she was visiting friends. Cornelious Larry, 27, had "started to curse and verbally disrespect her" in the parking lot on Oct. 16, the affidavit said.

Witnesses later told police that Simms' brother, 16-year-old Demetrius Simms, was with Shenica and was carrying a silver-colored revolver. His sister told officers that the younger brother, Demetrius, warned Larry "to stop disrespecting his sister," according to the police affidavit. About that time Johnny Simms rode up on a bicycle and both brothers confronted Larry.

Shenica Simms, according to the affidavit, "said she knew something bad was about to happen so she turned around to walk away." Gunshots rang out and Larry crumpled on a staircase. Witnesses identified Johnny Simms as Larry's killer; one saw him hand the silver-colored handgun back to his younger brother before they both fled.

Eventually, the killing brought a four-person team of Miami-Dade fugitive investigators Thursday to the duplex in crime-ridden Liberty City, where Simms was living with his mother and other relatives.

Cmdr. Nancy Perez, a Miami-Dade police spokeswoman, said previous efforts to persuade Simms through family members to turn himself in had failed. So the officers, wearing body armor, knocked on the door and Simms' mother opened it.

Without warning, police say Simms came out of another room and shot at the officers with a handgun, killing veteran detectives Roger Castillo, 41, and Amanda Haworth, 44. A memorial service has been scheduled for Monday at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Simms was shot and killed by detective Oscar Placencia, who was not hurt. A fourth member of the fugitive team, detective Deidre Beecher, suffered a minor knee injury.

The confrontation lasted only a few seconds. Family members said they had no inkling Simms would come out shooting, though authorities say Simms was determined not to be taken alive.

"This is a guy who was never going back to prison," Griffith said.

Willie Williams, Simms' stepfather, said he was at work at the time of the shooting and expressed condolences to the families of the officers. But Williams objected to some descriptions of his stepson as a violent thug.

"It was three human beings regardless if they were police officers or not," Williams said. "They portray him as if he was an animal. He is a human being. He is a child of God."

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Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy contributed to this story.