A Florida sheriff defended his decision not to arrest a man who fatally shot another man during a heated argument nearly two weeks ago, saying the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law prevented him from doing so.
“To arrest, it must be so clear that, as a matter of law, ‘stand your ground’ does not apply in any way to the facts and circumstances that you’re presented with,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Tuesday.
“That is not the situation here. The facts are not so clear that this is absolutely outside the boundaries of ‘stand your ground.’ “
His comments came in response to backlash from the family and girlfriend of the slain man and from some Republicans about his decision not to arrest Michael Drejka. Drejka, who is white, shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, who is black, on July 19 outside a convenience store in Clearwater.
The shooting took place after an argument erupted between Drejka, 47, and Britany Jacobs, 24, over the use of a handicapped-accessible parking spot. McGlockton, Jacobs’ boyfriend, walked over to Drejka and gave him a “violent push,” Gualtieri said at the time.
In response, Drejka pulled out a handgun while on the ground and shot McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton was later pronounced dead.
Gualtieri, who is a licensed attorney, gave an extensive legal explanation of the issue Tuesday. He went line by line through the “stand your ground law” and court precedent to explain that it largely takes the arrest out of police hands.
“My decision not to arrest is merely doing what Florida law compels,” he said.
The investigation in the case is ongoing, he said. Once complete, it will be turned over to the county’s state attorney for possible charges.
But in the meantime, Gualtieri said he was correct not to make an arrest.
“A whole bunch of people have offered a whole bunch of different opinions,” he said. “I’d suggest to you that the mere fact that so many people have so many different opinions validates the decision not to arrest Drejka (at) this stage.”
What is ‘stand your ground’?
Florida’s “stand your ground” law, perhaps the strongest in the country, grants immunity to the person acting in self-defense and puts the burden of proof on the state.
“Nowhere else is there anything like this in criminal law where somebody asserts something and the burden then shifts to the other person,” Gualtieri said in a press conference last week. “That’s a very heavy standard, and it puts the burden on the state.”
He said the state’s “stand your ground” law created a standard of how a reasonable person would react that was “largely subjective.”
However, several state Republicans questioned Gualtieri’s interpretation of the law in comments this week to Politico.
Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley and others quoted in Politico criticized Gualtieri’s view of the law, saying the reasonable person standard is objective, not subjective.
Gualtieri said Tuesday that the reasonable person standard is technically objective “but it has to be viewed through the lens of the person under the circumstances of the time, which inherently has some subjective components to it.”
Baxley told CNN he was “very satisfied” with the sheriff’s clarification and has full confidence in law enforcement in these incidents.
Jacobs, McGlockton’s girlfriend, told CNN affiliate WFLA in Tampa that she thought Drejka was in the wrong in the fatal shooting.
“It shouldn’t be right because he came approaching me,” she said, “and all Markeis did was try to protect us and protect (his) family.”