Advertisement
  1. Florida

Five things to know on the one-year anniversary of the Clearwater parking lot shooting

Much has changed in the year since Michael Drejka fatally shot Markeis McGlockton. But one thing remains the same: Florida’s divisive stand your ground law

The afternoon of July 19, 2018, started out normally enough for the people at the Circle A Convenience Store near Clearwater.

One family pulled in to buy some snacks and drinks. The father ran inside with his son. The mother stayed in the car with the couple’s two other children.

But what happened next ― one, two, three, in quick succession ― has sent ripples across Pinellas County and beyond, sparking a debate about self-defense that continues a year later.

Another man at the store, Michael Drejka, 48, of Clearwater, approached the mother, Britany Jacobs, about why she had parked in a handicap spot without a placard.

Her boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, caught wind of the argument while inside the store. He walked out, went up to Drejka and shoved him to the ground.

Drejka pulled out his gun and shot 28-year-old McGlockton in the chest, killing him. He told Pinellas sheriff’s deputies he was in fear of further attack.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: The Markeis McGlockton case, from shooting to stand your ground furor to shooter’s arrest

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially declined to arrest Drejka, citing Florida’s divisive stand-your-ground law. Prosecutors later charged Drejka with manslaughter.

The case has moved through the court system toward an Aug. 19 trial date. Here’s a recap of what has happened in the case during the past year.

Britany Jacobs, now 26, consoles her son Markeis McGlockton Jr., now 6, during a vigil. Their cousin Mesha Gilbert left, looks on. OCTAVIO JONES | Times

1. The victim’s family is grappling with loss and growth

McGlockton left behind many loved ones, but, by all accounts, his children were his world. There’s Markeis Jr., now 6 and heading into first grade. There’s daughter Marlay, now 4. And there’s another son, Marshawn, who turned 1 on March 28, the same day his dad would have turned 29.

This year, McGlockton’s longterm girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, welcomed their fourth child into the world. Martavius was due in February but came early, on Jan. 17. Jacobs didn’t know it then, but she was pregnant with him at the time of the shooting. Markeis Jr. witnessed the shooting.

In a recent interview, Jacobs said she and the kids have been holding up okay. Marshawn has learned to walk. Marlay has taken up cheerleading. Markeis Jr. is playing flag football. He’s gone to counseling, too, Jacobs said, to work through what he saw.

“Little Markeis is just strong,” said Jacobs, 26. “He’s just getting through it as much as he can, but I know it’s affecting him a lot too.”

The kids still ask about their dad sometimes. Jacobs tells them he’s in heaven and will always be in their hearts. But she knows one day, when they’re older, she’ll have to tell them the whole story.

“Markeis made a huge impact in his kids’ lives,” she said. “Now that he’s gone, it’s just not the same.”

Between them, Michael McGlockton and Monica Moore Robinson ― parents of the victim ― have attended every pre-trial hearing in the case. They sit in the gallery behind the prosecutors, usually with their lawyer Michele Rayner-Goolsby. Jacobs is represented by prominent civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, known for representing the parents of Trayvon Martin ― the Sanford teen whose shooting death exposed racial divides and drew attention to Florida’s self defense laws.

Both parents, and McGlockton’s sister, Markeisha, were featured in an episode of the Black Entertainment Television documentary series “Finding Justice” about injustices facing black communities in America.

“I never thought that I would be in this position,” Moore-Robinson said in the episode, “but raising a black child in America, I knew it was a possibility.”

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and former Democratic candidates for governor Andrew Gillum and Gwen Graham at a rally in Clearwater a few weeks after the shooting. OCTAVIO JONES | Times

2. Critics tried and failed to change the stand your ground law

The shooting came at the peak of midterm election season. Two hotly contested primary races were about a month away, the general election a couple months after that. People running for office, mainly Democrats, called for reform or elimination of the law that initially protected Drejka from arrest. Under stand your ground, a person who fears for his life has no obligation to try to escape his attacker before responding with force.

Candidates for governor came through Clearwater like a revolving door and stood beside McGlockton’s family at news conferences. State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, tried and failed to convene a special session to address stand your ground. Congress members including two current presidential candidates ― Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. ― called for a Department of Justice civil rights investigation into the shooting.

But Republican wins in the governor’s mansion and in both chambers of the Legislature squashed any potential reform. When it came time for the spring session, nothing could budge stand your ground. Two lawmakers filed bills to change slightly how to consider a person’s mindset before the use of deadly force in self-defense. The bills also would have lowered the standard by which prosecutors must disprove a stand-your-ground claim.

Both died in committee.

Family and friends of Markeis McGlockton gathered in front of the location where he was shot. LUIS SANTANA | Times

3. The shooter isn’t seeking stand your ground immunity

Drejka is bypassing a pre-trial immunity hearing allowed under the law where his lawyers would make the case that his manslaughter charge should be thrown out.

Instead, they’re going straight to trial, although the foundation of their defense will likely be the same.

The main difference between the trial and the immunity hearing is the audience. The decision in the hearing falls on just one person ― the judge. It’s a high-risk, high-reward bet. If the judge sided with Drejka, the defendant is home free. But if not, the defense team’s cards are all on the table at the start of a jury trial.

Plus, jurors take up the case cold. They haven’t had to review all the evidence to determine what’s admissible and what isn’t, as the judge has, and they haven’t experienced the community pressure generated by the cases.

In the words of Mark O’Mara, who won acquittal for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, “The judges are not immune to those type of pressures. Neither is the system as a whole.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri discusses the controversial shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a news conference in the week after the shooting. DIRK SHADD | Times

4. Sheriff Gualtieri is haunted by his news conferences

The moment that elevated the case from a local shooting to a national movement happened the day after, at a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office substation in Dunedin. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri took to a lectern and explained why, by his reasoning, Florida’s stand your ground law precluded him from arresting Drejka. Gualtieri doubled down on the explanation a few days later in the face of outrage from near and far.

The news conferences were striking for their transparency. But their impact was short lived. Three weeks later, Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors decided to charge Drejka with manslaughter. Gualtieri has insisted he supports the decision while standing by his own, saying that each was based on information available at the time.

Still, the sheriff’s initial position has surfaced again and again. Drejka’s defense lawyers used his words to seek a lower bail amount for their client. They’re also trying to call him as an expert witness to testify that "in his opinion, because Mr. Drejka was slammed to the ground that in very short order, he ... felt it necessary to defend himself,” according to a court filing.

And they referenced Gualtieri’s decision in a motion asking the judge to disqualify the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the case. That motion will be heard Aug. 2.

Michael Drejka is seen outside the Pinellas County courthouse after a hearing with lawyers John Trevena, left, and Bryant Camareno, right. DIRK SHADD | Times

5. The manslaughter case is spinning off sideshows

First, Drejka lawyer Lysa Clifton touched off a Florida Bar investigation by seeking him out at the Pinellas County jail to represent him. Clifton later withdrew from the case and, three weeks later, was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence.

Then there’s John Trevena, a longtime Pinellas defense attorney whose personal drama has run on a parallel track with the manslaughter case. In January, Trevena filed salacious allegations in court against a woman introduced to him, he said, by his close friend and former WTSP-Ch. 10 news anchor Reginald Roundtree.

The relationship with Roundtree and how it influenced Roundtree’s access to Drejka ended with the news station firing him in February. A lawyer for Roundtree has said it wasn’t the Drejka case but age discrimination that led to the dismissal. Trevena has since apologized.

Then in March, Trevena was arrested on a domestic battery charge after an argument with his ex-wife, Meredith Recio. Prosecutors dropped the case weeks later. But in June, Recio herself was arrested after Trevena accused her and her boyfriend of breaking into his Largo law firm.

On top of all of that, the lead Pinellas Sheriff’s detective on the case, George Moffett, was fired after deputies say he showed up to a crime scene drunk. He’s facing a DUI charge that’s still moving through the court system.

Advertisement