Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said Florida's "stand your ground" law needs "significant improvements" days after a fatal shooting last week riled his community.
While the death of Markeis McGlockton, who was shot during a confrontation that started over a parking space, was just outside of the Clearwater Police Department's jurisdiction, Slaughter attended a vigil Sunday night at church within the city.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office investigated the incident, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Friday that his agency would not arrest the shooter, Michael Drejka, because the encounter met criteria established under "stand your ground." The sheriff forwarded the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's office for a final determination.
Friends, family and supporters took to the pews Sunday to mourn the loss of McGlockton, a 28-year-old father of three, and protest the controversial self-defense law, which Slaughter said in an interview Monday is "a little far-reaching right now."
"My hope is that we learn from the Parkland students," he said, referring to the outspoken survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, "and that our community is able to use this incident to get some attention from the Legislature to give this law another look and make sure it is exactly what the people want."
The shooting occurred at the Circle A Food Store in a tiny enclave of unincorporated Pinellas County surrounded by the city of Clearwater, making it a matter of blocks that the decision of whether to arrest Drejka fell on Gualtieri, not Slaughter.
The chief wouldn't say Monday whether he would have made the same call, saying he hasn't "had the benefit of seeing all the evidence and the testimony and the statements."
But he did point out a couple aspects of the law he took issue with.
The first is that it holds the arresting agency civilly liable if an arrest is made in a case later deemed to fall within the criteria of "stand your ground," meaning the agency would have to pay back attorney's fees, lost wages and other expenses. Eliminating that clause, he said, would allow more cases to go before a jury.
"No time should there be a provision where you have to win the trial or pay damages. It doesn't make any sense," he said. "Let it be treated like any other arrest."
And last year, the law changed so the burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defense.
"Those are standard, affirmative defenses that would generally be the responsibility of the defense to prove," Slaughter said. "I can think of no other law that has the provisions included to make an arrest so complicated."
Gualtieri, too, zeroed in on those components of the law during a news conference Friday and emphasized he has to assess the situation in the eyes of the law.
"I'm not saying I agree with it, but I don't make that call," he said at one point, but wouldn't go so far as to say whether he disagreed with it.
"I am a firm believer in the adage that 'just because you can doesn't mean you should,'" he continued. "But I'll also say … I'm not going to substitute my judgement for Drejka's judgment sitting on the ground after having been slammed to the ground either."
Slaughter said he expressed his reservations to the Florida Police Chiefs Association last year after a call asking for feedback on proposed legislation.
He also said he met with state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, on Sunday to discuss his concerns. Rouson was not present at the vigil, but organizers read a statement from him that read in part, "This matter is not over … I stand with those who are committed to justice for the McGlockton family."
"I was proud of the community's leadership," Slaughter said. "I think they took some very charged emotions and were trying to move forward in a positive way and hopefully get some legislative changes."
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