A deadly shooting in Florida recently made national headlines (in contrast to the majority of other shootings that occur daily in the US), and for no other reason than the local Sheriff’s commentary on the incident:
The incident falls under Florida’s self-defense law known as “stand your ground,” the sheriff said during a news conference. The law gives immunity to those in fear of their lives who use force to defend themselves.
The shooting “is within the bookends of ‘stand your ground’ and within the bookends of force being justified,” the sheriff said, later adding, “I’m not saying I agree with it, but I don’t make that call.”
One thing is for certain – the Sheriff doesn’t make that call – which brings us to the only relevant part of his press conference:
The agency will forward the case to the State Attorney’s Office for a final decision, Gualtieri said.
The FMShooter team was fortunate enough to speak with a police officer (whom it must be noted, is not a Florida officer), who stated that homicide detectives make murder arrests – other officers can only take suspects into custody. Charges in his department are filed only by the DA, who works in conjunction with homicide detectives.
In other words, the Florida State Attorney’s Office (not the local Sheriff) determines the relevance of Stand Your Ground, and could still bring charges in the case. The Sheriff quite literally has no business commenting at this stage.
“We’re precluded from making an arrest in this type of a situation,” Gualtieri claimed at a press conference the next day. “Stand Your Ground allows for a subjective belief by the person that they are in harm’s way,” the sheriff said, and “we don’t get to substitute our judgment for Drejka’s judgment.”
To the contrary, the law requires police and prosecutors to assess the judgment of someone who uses deadly force, which he is allowed to do only if he “reasonably believes” it is “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” It is not enough to claim you shot someone because you believed he otherwise would have killed or maimed you; that belief has to be reasonable in the circumstances.
…which is relevant when we consider that the Sheriff in question, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, has a lengthy history of making inflammatory anti-gun statements, as The Gun Writer points out…
FACT: Sheriff Gualtieri has a history of outlandish what-if horror stories regard pending pro-gun legislation. He once called the Firearms Mandatory Evacuation bill — which is now law — “crazy” and “absurd,” saying it would allow people to carry concealed firearms into a riot, rather than when they’re fleeing their homes. I’m still waiting for the riots.
FACT: He once threatened to resurrect a little-used county ordinance that requires background checks at local gun shows for all private sales. The county ordinance gathered dust since it was enacted in 1998. Violators faced misdemeanor charges. After garnering a few headlines, the plan fizzled. Gun shows were held without any problems. No arrests were ever made.
FACT: In 2013, Gualtieri, along with every single Florida sheriff, signed a pledge to support and defend the Second Amendment.
FACT: But that same year, Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times he supported background checks for ammunition purchases saying it “makes all the sense in the world to me.”
FACT: Sheriff Gualtieri said open carry legislation “raises questions” about a police officer’s ability to ask an open-carrier to produce their concealed-carry license.But under existing law, 790.06(1), license holders are required to have the license with them “at all times in which the licensee is in actual possession of a concealed weapon or firearm and must display both the license and proper identification upon demand by a law enforcement officer.” That same restriction applies to open carry. It’s in the bill.
FACT: Gualtieri claimed that if open carry legislation passes, a Day Care or a McDonald’s won’t be able to bar people from open carry or “having their guns on tables” while eating. There is nothing in the bill that in any way impacts the private property rights of others. Any businesses or person may prohibit the open carry of firearms on their private property.
The good sheriff said Thursday that law abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights will be “thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them — or worse.”
He also said if a concealed carry unknowingly enters a bank during a robbery, the citizen is “going to take one in the chest because he’s a threat.”
While in my opinion, open carry isn’t a smart or viable option/tactic most of the time, Gualtieri’s contempt for the citizens he’s supposed to protect and serve is extremely worrisome for any citizen living within his jurisdiction who just so happens to carry a firearm, openly or concealed.
As for the shoot itself… was it justified or not? The video of the incident doesn’t make it an easy call:
Context about the shooter and the victim is essential. The shooter, Michael Drejka, is a 47-year-old who confronted an able-bodied woman parking in a handicap space. But according to the Tampa Bay Times (and his own criminal history), it isn’t the first time he’s had a firearm-related incident:
Records show Drejka does not have a criminal history in Florida, although the Sheriff’s Office had prior contact with him in 2012 when a driver accused him of pulling a gun during a road rage incident. Drejka denied he showed the gun, and the accuser declined to press charges.
It wasn’t the first time he saw Drejka in a fight with another customer. A couple of months back, Rick Kelly stopped by the store, parking his tanker truck in the same handicap spot.
The details to Thursday’s incident are similar: Drejka walking around the truck checking for decals, then confronting Kelly, 31, about why he parked there. The fight escalated, and Drejka threatened to shoot him, Kelly said.
Drejka has a documented of seeking out conflict and possibly brandishing his weapon. Whereas one should always look to avoid, deter, and de-escalate conflicts, with or without a weapon, it seems he has done anything but that, on multiple occasions.
However, in the video, Drejka was not moving and had his feet solidly planted, while the girlfriend of the victim, Markeis McGlockton, felt comfortable enough to get out of the car and escalate her confrontation with Drejka. McGlockton comes out of the store, shoving Drejka hard, launching him off his feet and to the pavement, and taking several menacing steps towards him before Drejka draws his weapon.
McGlockton didn’t really back off after Drejka drew, as he is still only a few feet from Drejka when he fires, and could presumably (and quickly) continue his assault. The other bystander who noticed Drejka’s weapon moved quickly out of the way, about 5-6 long strides, far more of a retreat than McGlockton’s.
And while it can be argued that McGlockton’s behavior did not warrant being fired upon, his own criminal background and conduct in the video would suggest otherwise:
McGlockton’s history included a drug conviction in 2010 and an arrest for aggravated battery a decade ago, records show, but the charge was dropped.
The way he launched a much older, frailer and weaker Drejka off of his feet and continued approaching him would suggest that he means to cause grievous bodily injury – he did it almost as if it was second nature. What would have happened to Drejka if he hadn’t pulled that gun out?
The Florida State’s Attorney could still charge Drejka with murder, manslaughter, or any host of charges. Drejka’s defense could claim Stand Your Ground in an attempt to get the case dismissed – but it should be noted that George Zimmerman’s defense (in a case where video evidence was not present) did not even attempt a SYG defense, opting to go to a jury trial.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law could end up playing no role whatsoever in Drejka’s fate, contrary to Gualtieri’s outlandish claims. If it does end up in front of a jury, given what evidence the judge may or may not suppress, and what may or may not be disclosed about the backgrounds of Drejka and McGlockton, it is not as cut-and-dry as many other cases out there…