Florida prosecutors have charged Michael Drejka — who shot and killed a man over a parking spot in July — in a reversal of a sheriff’s decision not to bring charges, which prompted debate over “stand your ground” laws.
Drejka, 48, was arrested and charged with manslaughter Monday by the state attorney for Pinellas County in western Florida, authorities said. He is being held on $100,000 bond in the killing of Markeis McGlockton, 28, in Clearwater.
In court documents, prosecutors allege Drejka has brandished firearms or threatened to shoot other drivers during confrontations in at least three other incidents, including at the same store.
The July 19 shooting was the culmination of a heated but brief exchange between the two men. Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend about her vehicle parked in a handicap spot at a convenience store while McGlockton was inside with their 5-year-old son.
McGlockton rushed to defend Britany Jacobs and shoved Drejka to the ground, surveillance video shows. Drejka pulled out a pistol, and McGlockton appeared to take several steps back at the sight of the weapon. Drejka fired once, striking McGlockton in the chest. He staggered inside and collapsed.
His girlfriend applied pressure to his wound. Their other children were in the car as the shooting unfolded. McGlockton died less than an hour later.
The next day, in a lengthy defense of his decision not to pursue an arrest, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a 30-minute news conference that Drejka acted within his right to defend himself with deadly force.
But prosecutors have since diverged from the sheriff’s assessment. State Attorney Bernie McCabe said his office reviewed Gualtieri’s investigation and conducted its own probe, including the other, separate incidents.
“We reached the conclusion that this is a charge we can prove,” McCabe told The Washington Post on Monday. Drejka will appear in court Tuesday as he faces charges that could bring up to 30 years in prison, McCabe said. It is not clear whether he has retained an attorney.
Court filings detail three incidents where Drejka allegedly harassed other motorists. Richard Kelly, a truck driver, told the sheriff’s office that Drejka threatened to shoot him after he parked in a handicap spot at the same store about three months ago. It is unclear if he came forward before or after news spread of the July killing.
Kelly told police that Drejka rummaged in his center console for something, and Kelly sped off, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Washington Post. Drejka allegedly used racial slurs during the encounter. Drejka is white and Kelly is black, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Drejka learned Kelly worked at AA Cut-Rate Septic Tank Service, the documents show, presumably from the truck he drove, and called Kelly’s supervisor. Kelly was “lucky I didn’t blow his head off,” Drejka allegedly told his boss John Tyler.
In two other incidents, drivers alleged similar threatening behavior. In January 2012, two teenagers stopped at a yellow light without driving through. Drejka was behind them, and he allegedly brandished a pistol after a confrontation. They declined to press charges.
In December 2012, a woman told police a man waved a gun at her for driving too slowly through a school zone. He was later identified as Drejka, who denied the accusation, the documents show. No charges were filed.
Florida law says that people who think someone is trying to kill or seriously harm them don’t have an obligation to retreat before using deadly force.
Drejka “felt after being slammed to the ground, the next thing was he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton,” Gualtieri said in July. He has been sheriff since 2011 and also has a law degree.
It is unclear what circumstances led McCabe to pursue charges, and if McGlockton appearing to move away from Drejka signaled to prosecutors he was trying to de-escalate the situation when a gun was introduced.
The killing of McGlockton and Gualtieri’s decision not to arrest or charge Drejka have been among the most prominent incidents in the debate over “stand your ground” enforcement.
The state and its laws were highlighted after the 2012 slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, when jurors discussed the statute in their deliberations before finding George Zimmerman not guilty.
Gualtieri’s office declined to comment Monday. “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,” he said in a statement.
In the past, defense attorneys had to explain why their clients deserved immunity in a killing. Now prosecutors have to prove that people who claim they were standing their ground are wrong.
Jacobs, 24, could not be reached for comment. But in the wake of the killing, she told “Good Morning America” that McGlockton’s safety, as well as her children’s safety and her own, should have also been considered.
“My man hears what’s going on, sees the guy yelling at me, and I’m sitting in the car. My man is defending me and his children, so he pushes him down,” she said. “The guy is on the ground, and he pulls the gun out. . . . My dude steps back ’cause my dude is fearing for his life — all of us were,” she added.