Full recovery expected for student shot in chest

By Anthony Cormier

Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SARASOTA – A high school student is expected to make a full recovery after being shot in the chest during a fight that started when he and a friend carried Confederate flags down Main Street on Friday night.

The teenager charged with shooting him remains in jail with bail set at $50,000.

Police reports released Monday show that the confrontation between Michael Mitchell and Daniel Azeff started when Azeff and a friend waved a Confederate flag as they rode in a pickup going down Main.

Azeff and his friend, whose name was not released, then parked on Links Avenue and walked toward Main Street while waving the flag and "making racially disparaging comments in a loud fashion," the report says.

Police say that none of the teenagers used a racial slur, but that Mitchell — who was going to the movies with two teenage girls — asked Azeff if he was a racist.

Azeff reportedly said that it was his First Amendment right to carry the Confederate flag, and Mitchell ran toward him as the two girls pleaded with Mitchell not to fight.

Mitchell fired the gun one time, striking Azeff in the chest, the police report says.

"We don’t know exactly why it escalated to the point that someone was shot," said Capt. Paul Sutton of the Sarasota Police Department.

Mitchell’s father, Gary, apologized to the Azeff family Sunday evening. He said his son was scared and "made the wrong decision."

This is the first time Michael Mitchell has been in trouble, his father said; teachers at Sarasota Military Academy say Michael Mitchell is a good student.

"I don’t want people to think he is this terrible, violent person," Gary Mitchell said. "He’s not some thug out there running the streets every night — I was stunned when I found out that he even had a gun.

"But there is no excuse for what he did. And my heart goes out to the Azeff family and Daniel for what they are going through."

After the shooting, Michael Mitchell ran off with the .22-caliber pistol and hid it at his father’s home, according to police, who say they are not sure where he obtained the gun.

Officers say it is the kind of gun that can be bought cheaply on the street, sometimes for less than $30.

Officers found Mitchell at his father’s home.

He reportedly confessed to shooting Azeff and detectives found the pistol in the backyard.

Mitchell has been charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Azeff, hospitalized at a trauma unit in St. Petersburg, was in stable condition Monday.

Extra police were on duty Monday at Sarasota High School, where Azeff was a senior, to make sure no one tried to retaliate for the shooting. Officers reported that there were no major incidents.

Students at the school say it is not uncommon to see the Confederate flag on campus. Some say that a group of students call themselves "country boys" and wear T-shirts or hats with the flag on it, or display it on their vehicles.

"It’s not a symbol of racism to the people who are wearing it," said Jaime Morrison, a junior. "To them, it is their heritage. They’re proud to be country."

The school dress code does not prohibit wearing clothing with images of the rebel flag.

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