CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Following weeks of national debate, protests and calls for a federal investigation, the Florida State Attorney’s Office has filed a criminal charge in the fatal Clearwater shooting that sparked debate over whether or not the state's controversial "stand your ground" law should apply.
Michael Drejka, 48, is charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton, 28, following an argument over a parking space on July 19 outside the Circle A convenience store.
Drejka was booked in the Pinellas County jail, and his bond was set at $100,000.
"I support the State Attorney's decision and will have no further comment as the case continues to work its way through the criminal justice system," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a statement.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office had declined to arrest Drejka, saying it was a case covered by Florida's "stand your ground" law. The controversial law allows a person to use deadly force if they think they're about to face, "imminent death or great bodily harm."
Deputies gave the case to the State Attorney's Office, which decided a charge was necessary.
“On behalf of the family of Markeis McGlockton, I commend the office of State Attorney Bernie McCabe for charging Michael Drejka with manslaughter for his cold-blooded actions," Clearwater Attorney Michele Rayner, who represents McGlockton's parents, said. "This is a big step forward in the direction of justice, not only for Markeis’ family but also for society as a whole.”
McGlockton's family also released their own response.
“The announcement that Michael Drejka will be charged with manslaughter provides our family with a small measure of comfort in our time of profound mourning. While this decision cannot bring back our partner, our son, our father, we take solace in knowing our voices are being heard as we work for justice. This man killed Markeis in cold blood, without a second thought about the devastating impact his actions would have on our family, but this charge gives us a measure of hope that the truth will win and justice will prevail in the end.”
McGlockton’s girlfriend of nine years, Britany Jacobs, watched as the two men confronted each other over the couple parking in a spot reserved for a person with disabilities.
Surveillance video captured the incident, which showed McGlockton pushing Drejka to the ground. About four seconds later, Drejka shot McGlockton once in the chest.
McGlockton stumbled into the convenience store. He died at a hospital 30 minutes later.
"After being slammed to the ground, he felt he was going to be further attacked," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a July 20 news conference. "The Florida Legislature has created a standard that is a largely subjective standard. The person's subjective determination of the circumstance they were in, the fear that they had, is relevant to the determination of whether they were justified in the use of force."
But, prosecutors say McGlockton was turning away when Drejka fired the gun.
"Markeis McGlockton immediately backs up when confronted with the firearm," Pinellas County Detective George Moffett wrote in court documents. "As he backs up to his vehicle, he begins to turn towards the front of the store away from the shooter. As he turns [away] from Michael Drejka, Michael Drejka fires one shot."
Investigators believe McGlockton was roughly 12 feet away from Drejka when he was shot.
Charging documents, incident reports from law enforcement and eyewitness accounts point to a pattern of behavior going back years, where Drejka allegedly brandished his weapon in various confrontations with strangers.
A septic truck driver says he was confronted by Drejka over a handicap parking spot at the same store, three months earlier, and Drejka allegedly threatened to shoot him. According to the driver, Drejka used "racial slurs" during that encounter. The owner of the truck driver's company also recalled speaking with Drejka, who allegedly said the driver was lucky Drejka didn't blow his head off, according to court documents.
In another incident, in 2012, two teens told Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies that Drejka pointed a gun at them out of his truck window near the intersection of State Route 580 and U.S. Highway 19.
A woman recounted a similar experience in Largo, in which she said Drejka pointed a gun at her and some passengers in her vehicle, according to court documents.
Gualtieri cited the “stand your ground” law as the reason to not arrest Drejka right away. Drejka did have a concealed carry permit.
"The easy thing, in some respects, would have been for me to arrest Drejka and kick it to the state attorney," he said on Aug. 1, the day the case was submitted to the State Attorney’s Office. "The easy thing is not the right thing or the legal thing to do based upon the application of law in this case."
The shooting sparked much debate regarding whether Florida should change its “stand your ground” law.
Passed in 2005, advocates applauded the expansion of one's right to use deadly force anywhere and anytime they felt violence was imminent. Critics feared it would create a “shoot first-ask questions later” mentality.
The law was preceded by Castle Doctrine, where a person had no “duty to retreat” against a threat inside their home, but outside the home, there was an obligation to attempt to defuse the situation before using deadly force.
Two former state legislators who voted for the law said it had unintended consequences.
Bob Henriquez, a Democrat from Tampa, and Nancy Detert, a Republican from Sarasota, said they didn’t imagine the law would be considered in a situation like the Clearwater case.
It’s an example of how legislation solves one problem, but creates another, Detert said.
“I can see what we were trying to do,” Detert explained. “I just don't think that bill accomplished it. I'm not embarrassed; I'm surprised I voted for it.”
Henriquez wants current legislators to change the law.
“I had a personal reaction having voted for this law that I think, over time, it's been shown that there's some flaws,” he said.
The sheriff’s office’s decision to not arrest Drejka sparked rallies, protests and calls for a federal investigation.
Hundreds protested outside the Sunset Point convenience store on July 22 to express their anger.
Ben Crump, a well-known civil rights attorney who was hired to represent McGlockton’s girlfriend, said during a July 26 news conference that the killing was cold-blooded.
Crump is known for representing the family of Trayvon Martin, the Sanford teenager shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012.
“My first thought on hearing this news was: It’s about time," Crump wrote in a statement. "I firmly stand behind the decision by the State Attorney's Office to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter for killing Markeis McGlockton. This self-appointed wannabe cop attempted to hide behind ‘Stand Your Ground’ to defend his indefensible actions, but the truth has finally cut through the noise."
Sen. Bill Nelson, along with four other Democratic members of Congress, signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on July 27, asking for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Members of the group Black Lives Matter released the below statement.
"We are gratified that our efforts prompted our public servant State Attorney McCabe to do the right thing and charge Drejka. While we commend State Attorney McCabe's decision, we will continue examining the racist policies and practices of Sheriff Gualteri and the entire structure that allows for this type of vigilantism to flourish. We thank the community for all their efforts to support their fallen member, and Michael McGlockton's family and partner, Britany Jacobs, for their resolute bravery in the face of their immeasurable loss."
Protesters took to the streets on July 29, blocking the intersection of Haines Road North and 3rd Avenue North, to call for changing the “stand your ground” law.
Police intervened after heated moments between drivers and protesters. The group then went to Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Clearwater, where Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum led a town hall.
“I don’t know how hard the shove was but let me be clear, there was no action taken by Markeis that necessitated an execution,” Gillum said.
Prominent civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton also held a rally earlier this month with Democratic gubernatorial candidates at St. John Primitive Baptist Church in Clearwater. During the rally, Sharpton called for Gualtieri to, "Lock up shooter Michael Drejka or give up your badge."
In response to Sharpton, Gualtieri said, "I wasn't there and don't really care what Al Sharpton has to say. Go back to New York. Mind your own business."
McGlockton's family, Gillum and other state lawmakers also rallied on Aug. 8 in Tallahassee to push for the repeal of "stand your ground."
Following Monday's arrest, Sharpton -- president of the National Action Network (NAN) -- released the following statement.
“NAN commends the Florida State Attorney’s Office for its decision to file manslaughter charges against Michael Drejka, who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton last month in a gross abuse of the state’s ‘stand your ground’ laws. These laws are an abomination that systematize a method of vigilante justice that consistently provides cover to racists and bigots for murdering innocent Black Americans – which is why I visited Clearwater this month to stand with NAN leaders and Florida’s Democratic candidates for Governor to call for putting an end to these kinds of laws once and for all. Today’s charges offer a ray of hope – but our work is not done. NAN will continue its work as the leading advocate for change in our nation’s broken criminal justice system.”
McGlockton and his girlfriend have three children together.
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