The manslaughter trial for a man involved in a deadly dispute last summer involving a handicapped parking spot in Florida, fueling renewed debate over the state’s “stand your ground law,” was set to begin Monday.
Michael Drejka, a 49-year-old white man, initially was not arrested for fatally shooting Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old unarmed black man, on July 19, 2018. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri declined to arrest Drejka, noting Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows citizens to defend themselves if they fear “imminent death or great bodily harm.’’
Prosecutors ultimately charged Drejka with manslaughter. Pinellas County State Attorney Bernie McCabe told USA TODAY last year he believes Drejka’s self-defense claim can be disproved.
“In any case where a defendant raises self-defense as an affirmative defense, we have to disprove that defense beyond a reasonable doubt, and I made the determination that we can do that,” McCabe said.
Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who sponsored “stand your ground” in 2005 in the state House, told Politico that the person committing deadly violence in self-defense must have a valid reason for doing so.
“’Stand your ground’ uses a reasonable-person standard. It’s not that you were just afraid,” Baxley said. “It’s an objective standard.”
The trial begins Monday with the selection of six jurors, the Tampa Bay Times reported. All six jurors must come to a unanimous decision after listening to witnesses and watching the surveillance video.
The altercation began when Drejka reprimanded Brittany Jacobs, McGlockton’s girlfriend, for parking in a handicapped spot without the proper permit outside a convenience store in Clearwater, Florida. She had stayed in the car with the couple’s two youngest kids while McGlockton went in to the store with their then 5-year-old son, Markeis Jr.
McGlockton went outside and pushed Drejka, according to police. Surveillance video shows Drejka then pulling out a gun and shooting McGlockton, who died in front of his eldest child.
Drejka has a history of getting into violent conflicts with people parking in handicapped spots, according to the court complaint. Three months before McGlockton’s death, a resident named Richard Kelly had a similar encounter with Drejka. Kelly said he fled after Drejka directed racial slurs at him and threatened to shoot him, the complaint shows.
Tamara Rice Lave, a University of Miami School of Law professor and former public defender, told USA TODAY if Drejka’s defense wants to convince jurors of stand your ground, Drejka would probably have to testify. This is risky, she said, because it opens the door to incriminating incidents such as the one with Kelly.
“Stand your ground” played an important role in the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012. On July 13, 2013, the jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented Martin and McGlockton, told CNN that the law makes it easier to target people of color.
“(The law says) that you can pick a confrontation,” Crump said. “You can be the initial aggressor. You kill the unarmed black person. And then you say, ‘Oh, it was self-defense. I was standing my ground.’ And you get to go home and sleep in your bed at night.”
Though there’s no direct evidence that Drejka shot McGlockton because he was black, Lave said race will play an important role in how jurors view this case.
“We know through lots of studies that there’s a lot of implicit and explicit bias against black people, bias that they’re dangerous,” Lave said. “Whatever people are saying, the fact of the matter is that if you had a white woman who shoved him away and the white guy killed her, that case would have a very different look to it.”
Lave said if the stand your ground defense works in this situation, it will show how easy it is to get away with deadly violence in Florida.
“It’s disturbing to think someone doesn’t have a gun and they could be killed and it’d be justified,” Lave said.