Prosecutors charged Michael Drejka, the man accused of killing Markeis McGlockton in a shooting that has reignited a debate around Florida’s stand your ground law, with manslaughter Monday.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Drejka was taken into custody Monday morning. He will be booked into the Pinellas County Jail this afternoon.
Drejka, 47, has avoided arrest since he shot 28-year-old McGlockton on July 19 because of the controversial self-defense law that eliminated one’s duty to retreat before resorting to force.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced July 20 that his agency was precluded from arresting Drejka because evidence showed it was "within the bookends of stand your ground and within the bookends of force being justified," which provides immunity from arrest, the sheriff said. He forwarded the case Aug. 1 to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to make a final charging determination.
State Attorney Bernie McCabe’s decision to charge Drejka signals that prosecutors believe they can show by "clear and convincing" evidence that a stand your ground defense is not applicable in Drejka’s case.
State legislators revised the law last year to put the onus on prosecutors to disprove a stand your ground claim instead of on defense attorneys to prove one.
Several questions must be considered in deciding whether someone can be protected under the law when they use force: Was the person acting lawfully? Did the person have a right to be there? And was the person in reasonable fear of serious injury or death?
The encounter between the two men started when Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, about why she had parked in a handicap-reserved parking space without a decal at the Circle A Food Store on Sunset Point Road near Clearwater.
McGlockton, inside the store with his 5-year-old son, caught wind of the heated argument from witnesses. Surveillance video shows him leaving the store, walking up to Drejka and pushing him to the ground. Drejka then pulls out a gun and shoots McGlockton. He told deputies he was in fear of further attack.
In order to make an arrest, Gualtieri said the facts of the case must clearly show stand your ground doesn’t apply, which wasn’t the case here. Otherwise, Drejka would be in custody while prosecutors considered whether they could meet the burden established under the law.
That differs from a normal arrest in which law enforcement officers "establish if we have the elements of a crime without considering the defenses," the sheriff said.
"This is very unique," he said. "There’s no other provision in Florida law that says we have to consider these defenses."
The shooting reignited a national debate around stand your ground — and race’s role in how it’s applied. McGlockton was black. Drejka is white.
Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney known for representing unarmed black men who died in violent encounters, including Trayvon Martin, signed on to represent Jacobs. Five members of Congress, including Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Charlie Crist, called for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to open an investigation. State Sen. Darryl Rouson called for a special session to address stand your ground, an effort that failed on Friday.
And all the while, rallies and news conferences cropped up nearly every day to call for an arrest, organized by groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Black Lives Matter.
Drejka has remained largely a mystery to the public in the weeks since the shooting. The Tampa Bay Times reported last week that he has been the accused aggressor in four incidents since 2012, including two in which he was reported to have shown a gun. He was not arrested in any of the cases and does not have a criminal history in Florida.
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.