The two Republican candidates for Florida governor on Tuesday clashed over the "stand your ground" shooting of Markeis McGlockton, inflaming an increasingly bitter contest for the GOP nomination one day before their final debate.
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam tweeted Tuesday afternoon a statement defending Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri over his handling of the July 19 shooting, saying "the state attorney and Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri have far more information on what took place in Clearwater."
"No wonder (zero) Florida sheriffs have endorsed him," Putnam added in the body of the tweet, referring to his opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Putnam has been endorsed by close to 50 sheriffs, including Gualtieri.
Then Putnam added an image to the tweet thread, portraying DeSantis on the same "side" as all five Democratic candidates for governor, as well as the national civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton came to Clearwater on Sunday to speak at St. John Primitive Baptist Church, where he accused Gualtieri and the state attorney of mishandling the case because of racial bias. Gualtieri responded by saying Sharpton should "go back to New York" and mind his own business.
McGlockton, 28, was black and his shooter, 47-year-old Michael Drejka is white.
Putnam's tweets came after DeSantis weighed in Monday on the shooting in a statement that expressed his support for Florida's controversial law, which grants immunity to people who use force in self-defense if they fear for their lives. DeSantis, a military lawyer, said Gualtieri had not "analyzed the law properly," and that the "stand your ground" law does not apply in this case.
The July shooting happened during a heated dispute over a handicap-reserved parking space at a convenience store in Clearwater. McGlockton, 28, was black and his shooter, 47-year-old Michael Drejka, is white.
Surveillance footage shows McGlockton shoving Drejka, who had been berating McGlockton's girlfriend over her use of the parking space. While on the ground, Drejka pulled out a gun and shot McGlockton, who died shortly thereafter.
Gualtieri has been widely criticized for his decision not to arrest Drejka, citing the "stand your ground" law. Gualtieri's office has forwarded the case to Bernie McCabe, the state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco counties, for review and it is still pending.
DeSantis' position is shared by the National Rifle Association and some other Republicans. It's true that both McGlockton's family and Democrats have also criticized the handling of the case, but those candidates have also called for repealing the self-defense law altogether. DeSantis and Putnam both support the law, it's on othe issue of whether Gualtieri interpreted the law correctly is where they disagree.
On Tuesday, David Vasquez, spokesman for DeSantis's campaign, replied to Putnam's tweet.
"Facing the end of his political career, Adam Putnam is no longer supporting the principles or the party that have done so much for him," Vasquez said in a statement. "He's committed to throwing away the last of his integrity on desperate, baseless lies that Floridians will remember him for."
Conservative Parkland student Kyle Kashuv weighed in on Twitter, calling Putnam a "hack politician" who is "lying for a desperate, last second, attempt at not being embarrased in the polls."
But Putnam found support from Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who has appeared in his TV ads and represents Putnam's home county. Judd said charges can still be filed, and Gualtieri has faced unnecessary heat for what was only an initial decision in a multi-step process.
"You can politically discuss whether or not the law needs to be changed," Judd said. "But to politically try to make hay over a current incident based upon current law before the investigation is complete is unfortunate. I appreciate the fact that Adam defended law enforcement and the process that must run its course. DeSantis should have said the same thing."