CLEARWATER, Fla. – A fatal shooting caught on video outside a convenience store in July has reignited debate over Florida’s "stand your ground" self-defense law, renewing calls by civil rights activists and politicians to abolish the hotly debated statute.
A July 19 surveillance video shows an escalating encounter in a convenience store parking lot after 48-year-old Michael Drejka confronted Britany Jacobs about why she had parked in a handicap-reserved parking space without a permit. Jacobs was parked while
waiting for her boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, who was inside the store with one of the couple’s three children.
A witness went inside to tell him about the argument, which prompted the unarmed McGlockton, 28, to exit the store. He approached Drejka and pushed him to the ground. Drejka then pulled out his Glock .40-caliber handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest, later telling officers he was in fear of further physical threats.
The wounded McGlockton walked back into the store with his son and collapsed. He died at a nearby hospital 30 minutes later.
The law, passed in 2005, says people fearing for their lives do not have to retreat before using deadly force to “prevent imminent death or great bodily harm."
“He is on the ground…at least 10 feet away, there’s nothing in the hands of the victim to indicate he is going to shoot, stab or beat him and he’s, in fact, turning away,” said legal analyst Jeff Brown. “We really don’t see any of the factors that would support ‘stand your ground’ here.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially did not arrest Drejka, saying the controversial law precluded him from doing so.
Some suggested politics or race played a role in the sheriff’s decision — McGlockton is black and Drejka is white — but Gualtieri was quick to deny accusations.
“He told deputies that he had to shoot to defend himself. Those are the facts and that’s the law,” he said. “No matter how you slice it or dice it that was a violent push to the ground.”
Three weeks would pass before Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe announced his office was formally arresting and charging Drejka with manslaughter on August 13.
“We’ve finally gotten an arrest,” said attorney Michele Rayner, who is representing the McGlockton family alongside prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. “But now we want the justice system to work…so a conviction is next.”
The arrest warrant stated that the findings of McGlockton’s autopsy were consistent with the surveillance video in which McGlockton appeared to be turning away from Drejka when he was shot.
In addition, the warrant said that in 2012 Drejka displayed a gun during two separate road rage incidents in which he was never charged.
A three-lawyer team has signed on to represent Drejka, one of which is facing an investigation by the Florida Bar for allegedly privately soliciting Drejka as a client when she visited him at the Pinellas County Jail on August 14.
According to Florida Bar rules, a lawyer can’t "solicit in person ... professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain."
In a statement to Fox News, a legal team spokesperson said, “…The team does not want to talk about that in public because they don't want to interfere with the Bar's investigation."
When asked about a defense plan, the spokesperson told Fox News, "The legal team for Michael Drejka is not going to speak publicly about defense strategy, except to say that a wide variety of defenses are being considered.”
"I think this is going to be one of those cases where the defense tries to argue ‘stand your ground’ but…it’s a manslaughter case with no real defense for why he shot somebody," said Brown.
In an election year already saturated with debate over guns, politicians have revived the national controversy surrounding the law.
The National Rifle Association, as well as Republican legislators who helped write the law, disputed the sheriff’s interpretation of it and all five Democratic candidates for governor stood alongside Reverend Al Sharpton at an August 5 “Justice for Markeis” rally to call for a repeal of the law.
“I think…it’s been convoluted,” said Rayner. “I think that you can have a self-defense statute — that’s great, but when everywhere becomes my castle — my castle is in the middle of a parking lot at Walmart or over a handicapped spot or over in the mall…you see the slippery slope that’s starting to occur?”
Stand Your Ground’s creators say there is nothing wrong with the law, but admit the way in which it is being applied could be improved. Last year, state legislators revised the law to put the burden of proof on prosecutors to disprove a stand your ground claim instead of on defense attorneys to prove one.
“The defense in stand your ground has changed that whole groundwork and has become one where the prosecution actually has the burden of proving not only their case but proving that stand your ground doesn’t apply and that is a little unique," said Brown.
Drejka’s team plans to fight to get his $100,000 bond reduced at a joint bond and arraignment hearing Thursday. He faces up to a 30-year sentence if convicted.