Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton in a July parking lot dispute that touched off a national debate over stand your ground, said Friday that he was scared for his life when he pulled the trigger.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Drejka granted an exclusive interview to local news station WTSP Channel 10. The Tampa Bay Times obtained a recording of the interview through a public records request to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which tapes in-person meetings between the media and inmates at the Pinellas County Jail.
"There was only one other person that was making a move, and that move was towards me," Drejka, 48, told WTSP anchor Reginald Roundtree. He said he was "stunned" when McGlockton shoved him to the ground before the shooting.
"It felt like I was tackled or someone hit me from behind with something," Drejka added. "I left my feet and slid along the ground."
Drejka said he had "never been assaulted like that" and threw up his hands after saying:
"You have to be scared because if you're not and you're wrong..."
The Times has previously asked for interviews with Drejka, but he has denied the requests.
The shooting happened July 19 outside the Circle A Food Store near Clearwater. Drejka, deputies said, approached McGlockton's girlfriend and argued with her after she parked in a handicap-reserved space. McGlockton, who had been in the store with one of his three children, walked outside, saw Drejka, and pushed him to the ground. From the pavement, Drejka drew his .40 caliber Glock and shot McGlockton, who collapsed inside the store and later died.
Investigators said McGlockton had started to back up and turn away when he saw the gun, and that the two men were about 12 feet apart at the time of the shooting. After the incident, Drejka told a deputy he thought he saw McGlockton twitch before he fired a single shot.
In the interview with WTSP, Drejka said his high school sweetheart was disabled, and he has always had a sensitivity about people wrongfully parking in reserved spaces.
"It's always touched a nerve with me," he said.
He added that he does not typically approach people or get into arguments.
The Times has reported that local police records and interviews show Drejka was accused in at least three previous road rage incidents, along with one other unreported altercation months ago over the same parking spot, though he was never arrested.
Drejka said "everybody's got a temper" but described himself "a very hands-off type of person."
Surveillance video of the altercation ignited outrage even as Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri decided not to arrest Drejka, saying the state's controversial stand your ground self-defense law might apply.
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"I followed the law the way I felt the law was supposed to be followed. I cleared every hurdle that that law had to put in front of me," Drejka said. "Yeah, I did feel vindicated after those statements."
But Gualtieri handed the case to prosecutors to make a decision, and they eventually charged Drejka with manslaughter. Deputies arrested him Aug. 13.
By then, the case had drawn the Rev. Al Sharpton to Clearwater for a rally and had driven several critics — and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum — to call for a repeal of stand your ground. The law allows people who fear for their life or serious injury to use force without needing to attempt retreat. Critics say it emboldens people to use guns in situations that do not call for such violence.
Many protesters called it racial injustice, another example of a white person shooting an unarmed black man. Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for McGlockton's girlfriend, has also referred to Drejka as a "wannabe cop."
Drejka told WTSP he is not racist.
"I do not hate anybody," he said.
His defense team has not said whether they will try to argue he is immune from prosecution under the stand your ground statute
If they do, a judge will decide whether the law applies during a pretrial hearing, which will center on whether Drejka had reasonable fear before he pulled the trigger.
Since the incident, Drejka said his wife has received threats and he is unable to help her from jail. He said they are experiencing financial hardship and need to move out of their house. In the video, he appears choked up talking about his wife and two German shepherds.
"I can't be there to do anything," Drejka said.
Drejka said he grew up in Delaware and used to work in the tree-cutting business, having visited Florida for hurricane work before moving down for good several years ago. He said he has declined interviews because he doesn't "like the spotlight" and is focused on trying to get help for his wife, who is struggling to move out of their house on her own.
Asked if he would do anything differently if he could change that day, Drejka told WTSP, "not off the top of my head."
Asked what he would say to McGlockton's family, he questioned whether the interview was the best place to address them directly.
"I'm sorry, that's all I can really say," Drejka said. "And thinking about it — would you accept those kinds of words from someone? I don't think I would. I think there's too much hate already to really be able to say anything that would make any kind of difference."
Contact Zachary T. Sampson at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson. Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.