Most of you will be familiar with the Florida “handicap parking spot” shooting, in which Michael Drejka shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, following being shoved to the ground when McGlockton saw Drejka scolding Drejka’s girlfriend over improperly parking in a handicap parking spot.
These events occurred in the Florida county of Pinellas, in which the Sheriff is Bob Gualtieri. Shortly after the shooting Sheriff Gualtieri shockingly announced that he had decided against arresting Drejka, on the grounds that the arrest was prohibited under Florida’s self-defense immunity law. (For a more in-depth discussion of this decision and the applicable law, check out my post at Legal Insurrection.)
It’s true that the state’s self-defense immunity law has a provision disallowing arrest in a self-defense case, but only where the police lack probable cause to believe that the use of force was unlawful. Drejka, who has since been charged with manslaughter, may ultimately be acquitted if the prosecution cannot disprove his claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal standard at trial. The arrest standard of probable cause, however, is vastly lower, and the evidence in this very marginal case of claimed self-defense was more than sufficient to provide such probable cause for Drejka’s arrest.
This made Sheriff Gualtieri’s refusal to arrest appear to be bizarre.
A recent news article in the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, however, now sheds new light on the Sheriff’s decision to not arrest.
The paper reports that shortly before the Drejka shooting Sheriff Gualtieri had been informed that he was being sued for wrongful arrest in an earlier, totally unrelated case of claimed self-defense, in which a wife stabbed and killed her husband during a claimed domestic violence situation.
Having learned that his decision to arrest in that earlier claimed case of self-defense had now provided the basis for a lawsuit against him, Sheriff Gualtieri apparently concluded “once bitten twice shy” and made the knee-jerk decision to not arrest Drejka in the later case of claimed self-defense.
I would suggest that this is not the level of decision-making one would normally expect, nor desire, from the chief law enforcement official of a large and populous county.
That said, we’ve all heard of “Florida man” news stories. Are “Florida Sheriff” news stories to be the next meme?
Attorney Andrew F. Branca Law of Self Defense LLC
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