Florida's "stand your ground" law could save a man from prosecution after he fatally shot another man following a heated argument over a parking space at a convenience store.
The shooting took place Thursday after Britany Jacobs, 24, parked in a handicapped-accessible spot at the Circle A Food Store in Clearwater, according to a news release from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff's detectives said Michael Drejka, 47, approached Jacobs while her boyfriend Markeis McGlockton, and the couple's 5-year-old son, Markeis Jr., went into the store. Drejka and Jacobs began arguing about her parking in the handicapped parking space.
Witnesses told police that McGlockton came outside, walked over to Drejka while he was arguing and "forcibly pushed" Drejka, causing him to fall.
"This is a violent push, this wasn't a shove, this wasn't just a tap," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a Friday press conference.
In response, the news release stated, Drejka pulled out a handgun while he was on the ground and shot McGlockton in the chest.
"Witnesses say McGlockton walked back into the convenient store where he collapsed," the release stated. He was taken to a hospital where he died.
Drejka was cooperative with deputies, the release said. He had a valid Florida concealed weapons license, it added. The statement did not indicate whether Jacobs' car had a handicapped sticker.
Sheriff Gualtieri said the only relevant issue is whether Drejka was in fear of further bodily harm from McGlockton.
"He 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 shooting was about four to five seconds.
Efforts by CNN over two days to contact Drejka were not successful.
A change in the law
The framework of Florida's 'stand your ground' law was changed this year, Gualtieri said. Before, the defendant/shooter used "stand your ground" as a defense and had to prove they were in fear of further body harm, the law now says the state attorney has to provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the defendant/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 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."
'It shouldn't be right'
But Jacobs, McGlockton's girlfriend, told CNN affiliate WFLA-TV she thought Drejka was wrong.
"It shouldn't be right because he came approaching me and all Markeis did was try to protect us and protect this family and it's wrong because he shot fire in front of my son," she said.
Gualtieri says there's no evidence that Drejka posed a threat to McGlockton's family, it was strictly a verbal argument, but McGlockton did engage in unlawful conduct when he pushed Drejka.
"Markeis wouldn't be dead if Markeis didn't slam this guy to the ground," Gualtieri said.