Attorneys for Dale Massad will argue that the former Port Richey mayor, who faces five charges of attempted first-degree murder, is immune from prosecution under Florida’s stand your ground law.
They say Massad feared for his life and acted in self-defense when he fired two shots at Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputies who had entered his home to serve a search warrant last year, according to a stand your ground motion filed Monday.
The motion was filed by defense attorneys Bjorn Brunvand and Denis deVlaming. It says that Massad was asleep at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 21, 2019 when deputies, including a SWAT team, arrived at the then-mayor’s waterfront Port Richey home. They were there to search for evidence in an investigation into allegations that Massad was practicing medicine without a license. The former doctor had surrendered his license in 1992.
Deputies knocked on Massad’s door several times and announced their presence, according to an arrest report, before using a battering ram and a shotgun to breach the front door. Then they detonated a flash-bang grenade inside to disorient the occupants.
But Massad’s attorneys argue that the mayor, sleeping behind a closed door with the fan on, couldn’t hear the knocking, and that deputies took “only seconds” to go from knocking on the door to breaking it open.
Massad, hearing the noise of the battering ram, awoke “believing that his home was being invaded by criminals,” according to the motion. He took a gun from his room, went into the hallway and fired two shots “in order to stop what he believed to be a home invasion” at about the same time deputies detonated the grenade, the motion said.
One of Massad’s house guests also called 911 at the time to report what she believed to be a criminal break-in, according to the motion.
The defense also argued that it was unreasonable to execute the search warrant early in the morning, that deputies should have come to the house during the day, while Massad was at his office.
Some details of the stand your ground motion contradict law enforcement reports from the incident. Massad’s attorneys argue that nobody in the house heard the deputies knocking and announcing their presence. But deputies wrote in an arrest report that one of Massad’s house guests said he had heard them. Six neighbors also told deputies that they heard them announce their presence outside Massad’s house, according to that report.
And while the attorneys argue that Massad thought criminals were breaking into his home, deputies wrote in the arrest report that he told them he thought the intruders were Port Richey police officers.
After a 2017 change in the law, though, the defense no longer bears the burden of proving that Massad feared for his life — instead, the prosecution will have to prove that he didn’t.
Brunvand said evidence from body-worn camera footage and the house guest’s 911 call will put those discrepancies to rest.
“It’s all very telling,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.
Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia, who oversees prosecutions in west Pasco County, said the motion doesn’t change the state’s perspective.
“We don’t believe his actions were justifiable,” he said.
Massad’s attempted murder trial is set to start Feb. 24, and Brunvand said the defense believes it is still on-schedule. Sarabia said a stand your ground hearing — where a judge decides whether the the defense is valid, which would render the defendant immune from prosecution — would almost definitely push back the trial date. The stand your ground motion will be discussed at a court hearing set for Friday.
Massad’s trial for practicing medicine without a license is scheduled for May. Last year, he was convicted of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communication device after he asked Terrence Rowe, who had replaced Massad as mayor, to look into Port Richey Officer Donald “Kenny” Howard, who helped investigate the practicing medicine without a license allegations.