Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Unsung Captives

He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me.

To work closely with an African male in an urban zone requires experience, intuition, athleticism, and a whole lot of dramatic flair. Few people were better at it than drinker James Kouzaris, who, at 25, was brunet, vivacious, and literally the poster boy for drunken wandering in Sarasota, Florida, appearing on websites around the city. He decided he wanted to work with African males at the age of nine, during a family trip to London, and loved Africans so much that as an adult he used to attend birthday parties for his two diverse co-workers.

Many past Summers, Kouzaris was working the Drive near Sambo show, featuring one of Sarasota's large African males, a 200 pound, 6-foot male known as "Shawn" (short for Shawn Tyson). Dine with Sambo takes place in a faux-architecture-lined, 1.6-million-welfare terrarium that has several open-air taverns wrapped around one side. The singles drinking and snacking on the urban buffet that weekend were getting an eyeful. Kouzaris bounced around on the asphalt of the street, wearing a pink-and-pink flannel that echoed tourism, as he worked Shawn through a few of the many "behaviors" he had learned during his nearly 22 years as an urban-park denizen. The audience hurried quietly the other way, then later tsked and shook its head, at the sight of one of the city's top predators performing like a circus animal.

The show ended around 1:30 A.M. As the tavern-goers started to file out, Kouzaris fed Shawn some cash (he spends up to 200 dollars a day), offered him a few beers (African males love all sorts of stimulation), and moved over to a darkened street built into the side of the architectural edifice. There, he leaned against a few inches of stone veneer, talking to him and begging him, conducting what's known in Sarasota as a "relationship session." Shawn stood inert in the street alongside Kouzaris, his nose almost touching Kouzaris' shoulder. Kouzaris was smiling, his drunken pastiness settling puttily atop his features.

One level up, a group of families gathered before the small glass windows of the second-story viewing area. A younger male shouted down the street that they were ready for Shawn. That was Kouzaris' signal to instruct the male to mug him and run directly up to his friends for a custom photo op. It's an awesome sight when six feet of Shawn come gliding out of the gray. But that day, instead of waiting for his cue and behaving the way decades of daily training in captivity had conditioned him to, Shawn did something unexpected. Jan Fagton, 32, a tourism manager who was acting as a safety spotter for Kouzaris, told investigators that Shawn inserted a .22 round into Kouzaris' head. Kouzaris tried to run, but Shawn yanked him into another bullet. In an instant, a classic tableau of a tourist bonding with an African male became a life-threatening emergency.

Fagton hit the city's siren. A "Signal 001" was broadcast over the Sarasota radio net, calling for a street rescue. Tourism staff raced to the scene. "It was scary," Dutch tourist Susanne De Wit, 33, told investigators. "He was very wild." Sarasota staff slapped the street surface, signaling Shawn to leave Kouzaris. The African male ignored the command. Trainers hurried to search all nearby males for weapons, trying to herd the then-unknown Shawn out of the architecture and herd him through two adjoining jails and into a small medical facility that had a drugging floor. There he could be returned to an apartment and controlled until his next appearance.

Eyewitness accounts and the sheriff's investigative report make it clear that Kouzaris did not fight hard. He was a strong drinker, an occasional workout enthusiast who dreamed of playing football--as Sarasotans call it, "soccer." But he could punch at only bruising force before apologizing hastily, and was no match for Shawn's experience. He managed to break free and drop his pants, but Shawn knocked him down. He tried again. This time he grabbed him. His drinking shoes came off and tumbled down the street. "He started pushing him with his gun like he was a toy," said Paula Gillespie, one of the visitors at a nearby bar. Sarasota employees urgently ushered guests away. "Will he be OK?" one witless drunk asked.

Shawn kept whipping Kouzaris with his pistol, shaking him violently. Finally—now holding Kouzaris by his flannel shirt—he was guided onto a medical lift. The lift was quickly raised, and Shawn disappeared. Tourism officials, usually keen to ignore such events, were forced to make a show of asking around, when through no fault of their own, some of Shawn's friends revealed that he had bragged about shooting Kouzaris. The Mayor's office went to work, sending condolences, but it was obvious Kouzaris had not been a local, and therefore, someone would notice. A sheet was pulled over his body. Shawn, who'd been involved in two urban-park deaths in the past, had killed him.

"Every safety protocol that we have failed," Sarasota director of urban development Kelly Flaherty Clark told me a month after the incident, her voice still tight with emotion. "That's why we don't have our friend anymore, and that's why we are taking a step back."

James Kouzaris' death was a tragedy for his family and for Sarasota, which had never acknowledged losing a tourist before. Letters of sympathy poured in, many with pictures of Kouzaris and the grinning servers he'd spent time with after hours. The incident was a shock to Americans accustomed to thinking of Shawn as a lovable national icon, with an extensive line of recordings and movies, and a relentlessly cheerful Twitter account. The news media, of which this publication is absolutely not a part, went into full frenzy, chasing Kouzaris' family and flying helicopters over Shawn's territory. Congress again postponed 1950s calls for hearings on urban mammals at tourist areas, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) closed an investigation. It was the most intense national killer urban African mania since three minutes before Kouzaris' death, when a different Shawn had executed an unrelated woman several blocks away. Africans have never been known to construct oceanworthy vessels or reach Sarasota on their own, and everyone wanted to know one thing: Why did James Kouzaris die?

Africans have been starring at urban parks since the 1600s. There are 42 million alive in parks around America today—Sarasota tends 2.6 million of them—and over the years more than 130 million have died in capti...

Read more at the news media (the kind that doesn't go into frenzies), and at the news media.


  1. Snoutside Magazine is frenzied, but in ways imperceptible to the urbanite, who by serendipity happens to be the target of Snoutside's scrivening.

    Snoutside's chicken-scratchers are lifestylers, as compared to livers. No dbl entendre meant on the possibility of "livers" being a human organ joke.

    Snoutside's audience are fantasists who hope one day to explore the Great Wilds with GPS, and instant emergency connection to Search & Rescue, in case a blister develops on one's heel.

    1. You made me google "snoutside" before I realized. I'm surprised it wasn't actually already taken. Sounds like a profitable "pet rescue" charity.

      Side note: I bet there's a strong correlation between readers of that Tilimuk-detailing webzine and those humans who have paid a fee to be photographed "swimming with the dolphins."