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Lawyer uses sheriff's words to seek bail reduction for parking lot shooter

Michael Drejka's attorneys, left to right, Lysa Clifton, John Trevena and Bryant Camareno, are seeking a reduction in bail. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published Aug. 17, 2018

Lawyers for Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot last month, have listed the Pinellas County sheriff's initial decision not to arrest Drejka as a reason to reduce their client's $100,000 bail.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Florida's controversial stand your ground law precluded his agency from arresting Drejka after the July 19 shooting because Drejka told deputies he was in fear of further attack after McGlockton shoved him to the ground. Prosecutors charged Drejka with manslaughter this week. He pleaded not guilty on Friday.

Three lawyers representing Drejka filed a motion in court Friday to reduce their client's bail, giving a first glimpse into potential points of defense. Included in that document is an invocation of part of the sheriff's explanation for not arresting Drejka, saying he "stated that Mr. Drejka ... was in fear of his life and that the stand your ground defense applied."

"I watched the sheriff's initial statement," said attorney Lysa Clifton, referring to a news conference Gualtieri organized the day after the shooting, "and I told my client's side of the story out of the sheriff's mouth."

ORIGINAL STORY: No arrest in fatal shooting during argument over handicap parking space

DOUBLING DOWN: Sheriff Gualtieri defends 'stand your ground' decision in convenience store shooting

Gualtieri, who said he supported Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe's decision to charge Drejka, repeated Friday that he made his decision based on the immunity from arrest provided in the stand your ground law and the information he had at the time.

"This is something that a judge needs to consider based upon their motion and we'll leave that to the courts to decide," he said.

The sheriff has faced ire ranging from criticism of his application of the law to accusations of racial injustice in his call not to arrest Drejka, who is white. McGlockton was black.

Other legal experts have maintained he was right to let the State Attorney's Office make the charging decision. Gualtieri has said the conflicting opinions underscore why he didn't arrest and detain Drejka while prosecutors worked out whether stand your ground applies.

Either way, lawyers told the Tampa Bay Times this week, it was likely Drejka's lawyers would try to use the lack of an arrest to their advantage.

The bail reduction motion is the latest legal shakeup in a case that has reignited the debate around stand your ground and how it's applied.

DEEP DIVE: Think you know stand your ground? The recent Clearwater case tells us you're probably wrong.

However, whether Drejka's lawyers will even use a stand your ground defense is unclear and likely won't be decided for months. The motion says Drejka shot in self defense "after being violently shoved and slammed to the ground." But stand your ground is a narrower subset of self defense and sparks a unique legal process once it's invoked.

Clifton just signed on to the case this week, along with Tampa Bay area defense lawyers John Trevena and Bryant Camareno. And Clifton has had her own bumpy road. The Florida Bar opened an investigation into allegations that she solicited Drejka to be her client during a cold call visit to talk to him at the jail.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Stand your ground shooter has three-lawyer team.

BAR INVESTIGATION: Florida Bar investigating one of stand your ground shooter's lawyers.

The motion points to several more reasons his attorneys say a judge should lower his bond to a "reasonable amount." Drejka stayed in the county during the three weeks between the shooting and when he was charged, it says. He has no criminal history. He does not pose a threat to himself, McGlockton's family or the community. And he can't afford it. The motion also asks the court to eliminate a condition set by a judge at Drejka's first appearance requiring him to wear a GPS ankle monitor if he gets out.

A bail hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: After Michael Drejka's first court appearance, stand your ground case is expected to crawl.

Michele Rayner, a Clearwater lawyer representing McGlockton's parents, said Friday that while the motion is par for the course for criminal defense attorneys, his bail is appropriate considering the crime he's accused of and McGlockton's family feels safer knowing he's in jail. She suspects the defense will continue to rely on the sheriff's words.

"However, just because the sheriff felt like he couldn't arrest doesn't mean that a crime wasn't committed," Rayner said.

Drejka "killed a man in front of his children," she continued, alluding to the fact that McGlockton's three kids were with him at the store when Drejka pulled the trigger. "I think $100,000 bond is appropriate."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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