Six years after the killing of Trayvon Martin put “stand your ground” laws under a microscope, attorney Benjamin Crump is representing another Florida family who lost a loved one under the law.
The case of Michael Drejka, who police say fatally shot Markeis McGlockton last week in Clearwater after McGlockton shoved him for confronting his girlfriend over a handicapped parking space, differs considerably from that of George Zimmerman, the man who killed 17-year-old Trayvon. Despite Trayvon’s case highlighting Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, Zimmerman ultimately opted to pursue a self-defense case and prevailed.
But Crump sees similarities. Drejka, he told CNN, was “the initial aggressor” and was acting as a “self-appointed cop wannabe” in hounding McGlockton’s girlfriend about the parking space. Crump made similar claims in 2012, when information surfaced indicating ZImmerman had described the 17-year-old Trayvon as “suspicious” for walking through the neighborhood where his father lived and defied a 911 dispatcher’s instructions not to approach the youth.
Crump believes that “stand your ground” is being applied to the wrong person in the Drejka case. Drejka killed McGlockton after being shoved, and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Florida’s “stand your ground” law prevented him from arresting and charging Drejka.
“Mr. McGlockton has the right to stand his ground when he comes out and sees his family being verbally assaulted,” Crump said.
Gualtieri disagrees and has ardently defended Drejka, describing McGlockton’s push as forcible and violent.
“(Drejka) felt after being slammed to the ground that the next thing was that he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton,” Gualtieri said, adding that the time between Drejka hitting the ground and the shooting was about four to five seconds.
The only relevant issue in this case, the sheriff said, is whether Drejka was in fear of further bodily harm.
Repeated attempts to reach Drejka have been fruitless. CNN affiliate WFTS reported that the 47-year-old put a sign outside his home that read, “No comment.”
‘My man is defending me’
Britany Jacobs, 25, says Gualtieri and investigators have it all wrong. She says that McGlockton, her boyfriend of nine years, was defending her and their three children, two of whom, one 3 years old and the other 4 months old, were in the car with her at the time. Five-year-old Markeis Jr. had gone inside a convenience store with his father.
Jacobs concedes she parked in a handicapped spot Thursday outside the Circle A Food Store in Clearwater, and told “Good Morning America” that Drejka pulled up in a silver SUV and began yelling and cursing at her.
“(McGlockton) comes out and sees a guy yelling at me and I’m sitting in the car. So, by this time, my man is defending me and defending his children so he pushes the guy down,” she told the ABC show.
Surveillance footage from the store shows McGlockton exit the Circle A and make a beeline for Drejka, who he shoves upon reaching him. Drejka tumbles back onto his butt as McGlockton briefly stands over him, pulling up his shorts.
Drejka pulls out a gun and McGlockton steps back and quickly clutches his chest before running back into the store and collapsing in front of his son. There is no sound on the video, but the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release, “Witnesses told detectives that Drejka was on the ground when he took out a handgun and fired one single round at McGlockton striking him in the chest.”
McGlockton was declared dead about 30 minutes later at Morton Plant Hospital. Drejka was cooperative with deputies, the release said. He has a valid Florida concealed weapons license, it added.
It’s not the first time Drejka has engaged in a confrontation over a parking space, store owner Ali Salous told CNN affiliate WFLA.
“He’s always hanging out in the parking lot here. If he sees anyone parking illegal or something like that, he just wants to argue with them and fight with them,” he told the station.
Sheriff: ‘I don’t make the law’
“This is a violent push. This wasn’t a shove. This wasn’t just a tap,” Sheriff Gualtieri said during a Friday news conference.
The framework of Florida’s “stand your ground” law was changed this year, he said. Previously, the shooter used “stand your ground” as a defense and had to prove she or he feared further bodily harm. The law now says the state attorney has to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the shooter is not entitled to “stand your ground” immunities.
“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. “That’s a very heavy standard and it puts the burden on the state.”
Gualtieri said the case will go to the state attorney. Meanwhile, “Drejka will not be charged, will not be arrested by us. … Either (the state attorney) will concur or not, and if he concurs, there will be no arrest.”
A spokeswoman for the Florida state attorney in Clearwater told CNN on Monday that the office had not yet gotten the case from the sheriff’s department but would investigate the shooting once the case is received.
In his remarks Friday, the sheriff added that while others can debate the law as it applies in this incident, “I just ask everybody to understand … I don’t make the law. But I will enforce the law and I will enforce it fairly as the legislature has directed that it be enforced. And under these circumstances, this fits within the framework that the Florida legislature has crafted.”
A community is angry
Mourners and protesters gathered Sunday night for a church vigil before marching more than a mile to the Circle A Food Store. Local news footage from the march showed demonstrators carrying signs that read, “He was murdered in front of his kids” and “Indict Drejka! The whole system is guilty.”
Some protesters called for the repeal of “stand your ground,” claiming it was racist in its application. Attorney Crump concurred in his CNN interview, calling the law “a license to kill black people and people of color and not be held accountable.”
Drejka should have called the police on McGlockton, plain and simple, the attorney said.
“The state attorney needs to make sure this cold-blooded murderer does not get away with this,” Crump said. “It’s the law, and it’s ludicrous. It’s just a very bad law that encourages people in society to take the laws into their own hands.”
Gualtieri has a different take and said, despite Jacobs’ and Crump’s claims, there’s no evidence Drejka posed a threat to McGlockton’s family. It was strictly a verbal argument and McGlockton engaged in unlawful conduct by pushing Drejka, the sheriff said.
“Markeis wouldn’t be dead if Markeis didn’t slam this guy to the ground,” Gualtieri said.