Florida's 'stand your ground' law under scrutiny after father killed over parking spot
Florida's "stand your ground" law is being tested again after a 28-year-old father was mortally wounded in front of his young children following an argument with another man over a handicapped parking space.
The State Attorney's Office is expected to review the case and make the final decision on whether it falls within the claim of self-defense — under a law that first gained prominence in the 2012 shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. State prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Surveillance video taken from the Circle A convenience store in Clearwater showed Markeis McGlockton, his girlfriend Britany Jacobs and their three young children pulling into a handicapped spot. McGlockton ran into the store with their 5-year-old son.
A man in a light-colored hat — later identified as Michael Drejka, 47 — went up to the car, and he and Jacobs got into a spat.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference Friday that the two were arguing over whether Jacobs could be in that parking space.
As Jacobs stepped out of the car, McGlockton came out of the store and shoved Drejka to the ground. In response, Drejka pulled a gun out of his pocket.
Drejka could be seen firing at McGlockton as the young father stepped away. McGlockton was wounded in the chest, and ran back into the store, where surveillance footage from inside showed him falling to the ground in front of his 5-year-old.
McGlockton later died at the hospital.
Gualtieri said that the video does appear to show Drejka protecting himself, so his agency does not have an authority to make an arrest "unless we have probable cause that the person committed a crime, and we don't have probable cause here of that."
He added that it will fall on the state to determine whether Drejka was "not entitled to use force in this circumstance."
The sheriff, however, said the circumstances surrounding the shooting were not clear-cut.
"As you can see in there, there is a pause — even if it's only for a couple seconds — there is a pause between the time Drejka hits the ground and he shoots. That pause gives me pause," Gualtieri said. "That pause gives me some concern. And it goes back to what I said when I opened: just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
Drejka could not be reached for comment Friday.
Another Circle A customer, Rick Kelly, told NBC affiliate WFLA that he encountered Drejka in a similar situation a couple of months ago. Kelly said he had pulled into that same handicap spot and Drejka began inspecting his decals to see if he had the right to be there. The situation escalated.
"He was basically threatening to shoot me that day," Kelly said.
Dozens of protesters marched on Sunday and held a vigil for McGlockton, whose girlfriend, Jacobs, called for justice.
"He was a great man, and you know, he didn't do nothing wrong," she said, according to WFLA. "He was just trying to protect us."
At least 24 states have some form of a "stand your ground" law, with Florida's enacted in 2005 with the help of gun lobbyists.
Since then, Floridians have been able to justify using deadly force in order to "prevent imminent death or great bodily harm." Florida goes the extra step of not requiring the gun owner to first try to flee from danger before pulling the trigger.
In legal cases, the defense had been required to prove a case of "stand your ground" — until last year, when it was changed to put the burden of proof on the prosecution.
George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had claimed self-defense when he fatally shot Martin, a 17-year-old high school student who had been walking through the gated community.
Zimmerman was later charged with murder, but acquitted. His attorneys did not use "stand your ground" as a defense at trial, but the law still became a flash point as part of a larger national conversation.
The law was again invoked in Florida in 2014, when a 71-year-old retired Tampa police captain fatally shot a 43-year-old man inside a movie theater after the two got into an argument. A trial in the case is scheduled for next February.
The race of McGlockton, who was black, has added another element in the case as protesters on Sunday held signs demanding the "racist" law be repealed.
Shevrin Jones, a black Democratic state lawmaker, tweeted Sunday that McGlockton's death "should give a clear sign that Florida need(s) to take a look and make changes to Stand Your Ground."