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Florida Sheriff Cites ‘Stand Your Ground’ in Not Arresting Shooter in Parking Lot Killing

A man who shot and killed another man in Florida this week during an argument over a parking space will not be arrested or charged by the sheriff’s office because of the state’s Stand Your Ground law, authorities said.

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Julia Jacobs
, New York Times

A man who shot and killed another man in Florida this week during an argument over a parking space will not be arrested or charged by the sheriff’s office because of the state’s Stand Your Ground law, authorities said.

Britany Jacobs, 25, was sitting in a car parked in a handicapped space outside a convenience store in Clearwater, Florida, on Thursday afternoon when a man, Michael Drejka, approached her vehicle and started looking for a handicap permit, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County said at a news conference Friday. Jacobs’ boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, and their 5-year-old son were in the store when Jacobs and Drejka began to yell at each other about whether she was permitted to be in that space, Gualtieri said.

In a video recorded on a surveillance camera, McGlockton, 28, exits the Circle A Food Store, approaches Drejka and shoves him to the ground. After McGlockton takes a few steps back, Drejka, 47, pulls out a gun and shoots him once in the chest.

McGlockton then retreats back into the store, clutching his chest. He was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri said his office did not arrest or charge Drejka, who had a concealed carry permit, because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which removes the obligation to retreat if a person feels threatened and frees the person to use deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes” it is necessary “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

The law was a national flash point after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. The case reignited a debate about racial profiling and just treatment under the law.

In the recent Florida case, McGlockton, who was black, backed away from Drejka, who is white, after pushing him to the ground. Gualtieri said this brief retreat gave him “pause,” but Drejka told authorities that he was in fear that he was going to be struck again.

Gualtieri described the contact as “a violent push.” “This wasn’t a shove, this wasn’t just a tap,” he said at the news conference. “He slammed him to the ground.”

Drejka had previously complained about people parking illegally in handicapped spots, he said.

The sheriff’s office will refer the case to the state attorney’s office to determine whether Drejka should be charged. Gualtieri added that by instituting this law, the Florida Legislature had created a “subjective standard” for determining whether the person who used force was in fear of bodily harm, but suggested that his hands were tied because his department could be sued if it failed to follow the law’s requirements.

“I don’t make the law — we enforce the law,” he said. “And I’m going to enforce it the way it’s written, the way the Legislature’s intended for it to be applied. And others can have the debate about whether they like it or not.”

Jacobs declined an interview Saturday after she was reached by phone. Drejka did not respond to a request for comment.

Florida’s law, which was adopted in 2005, received support from the National Rifle Association but was vigorously opposed by law enforcement officers. Last year, the state Legislature made it easier to use the law as a defense by shifting the burden during immunity hearings from the defense to the prosecution to show that such laws should not apply.

The state attorney for Pinellas County, Bernie McCabe, will have to present “clear and convincing” evidence that Drejka was not entitled to use the Stand Your Ground law, Gualtieri said. McCabe could not be reached Saturday.

More than most other states, Florida has made it particularly difficult to prosecute when a defendant has a reasonable claim to self-defense, said Caroline Light, a Harvard professor and the author of a book on the history of Stand Your Ground-type self-defense laws. Light said that, in the video, McGlockton appeared to be defending his family through nonlethal means.

“He shoves him, seemingly in an effort to get him away from his girlfriend, and then walks away,” she said. “The video would suggest it’s actually not reasonable for him to fear for his life.”

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