LARGO — Prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump stood in front of the Pinellas County Justice Center on Thursday and demanded justice for the family of Markeis McGlockton.
Flanked by the slain man’s parents and girlfriend, Crump told reporters that McGlockton’s shooting death last week was "cold-blooded murder ... by the self-appointed, wannabe cop Michael Drejka."
The July 19 incident started when Drejka, 47, confronted the girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, over why she had parked in a handicap-reserved parking space without a permit outside a convenience store near Clearwater.
McGlockton, in the store with his 5-year-old son, got wind of the argument and walked outside, where he shoved Drejka to the ground.
Drejka then pulled out a gun and fatally shot McGlockton, 28.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced last week that he would not arrest Drejka because his claim that he was in fear of further attack met the criteria under Florida’s "stand your ground" self-defense law for using deadly force.
The sheriff’s investigation will soon be sent to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, which will make the final determination whether to file criminal charges. Prosecutors had not yet received the case this week.
Crump, whose law office is in Tallahassee, drew comparisons to two previous controversial self-defense cases, both of which he provided legal counsel in: Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, and Corey Jones, a 31-year-old stranded motorist who met the same fate at the hands of a plainclothes officer in 2015.
All three cases share this trait, Crump said: The shooter "is the initial aggressor, starts the confrontation and then kills the unarmed black person and claims it’s self-defense.
"It’s still ludicrous how you can claim that you have fear of your life but yet you approach and start the confrontation with the individual."
Crump is known for representing families of unarmed black men who have died in violent encounters. He helped the Martin family settle a wrongful death lawsuit with the homeowner’s association and helped the family of Michael Brown reach a settlement with the city of Ferguson, Mo., after he was fatally shot by an officer in 2014.
Crump and Clearwater attorney Michele Rayner, who is also representing the family, questioned how Drejka’s fear could be considered reasonable — a requirement of the law — by pointing to surveillance video that appears to show McGlockton backing away as Drejka takes out his weapon.
Rayner counted to four to show how much time elapsed between the time Drejka hit the ground to the moment he pulled the trigger.
"It took four seconds for Mr. Drejka to make that decision, the conscious decision to murder Markeis McGlockton," Rayner said.
McGlockton’s death reignited the debate around Florida’s "stand your ground" law, which removed the obligation to retreat before resorting to force to defend one’s self during a violent encounter. Legislators also expanded the law last year, pushing the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution.
Crump said he’s planning to ask lawmakers to amend "stand your ground" so that an armed citizen could not claim immunity if they are the initial aggressor. He also said he will push "gun responsibility laws" to protect Floridians from what he called a "shoot first, ask questions later mentality."
The attorney emphasized that race is a factor in the case based on reports that Drejka, who is white, has harassed black men at the store before. The Tampa Bay Times spoke to one man who said Drejka used a racial slur while confronting him after he parked in the same spot last month.
"Just imagine if the roles were reversed," Crump said, laying out a scenario in which Jacobs and McGlockton were white and Drejka was black. "Does anyone doubt that he would have been arrested and taken to jail if he would not have been shot right there in the parking lot? So why is it different when there is an unarmed black person lying on the ground dead?"
The 2012 death of Martin, who was black, sparked discussion about how race plays a part in the use of "stand your ground." George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of the unarmed teenager.
Jacobs, 25, took to the microphones at one point to talk about the impact of the shooting on the couple’s children. Their eldest son, a 5-year-old named after McGlockton himself, witnessed his father’s death, and their 3-year-old and 4-month-old kids were in the back seat of her car during the confrontation.
Drejka "came cussing at me, came pointing his finger at me, and now I’m left answering questions for my babies," she said. "And they ask me, ‘Where’s their daddy?’ … We need justice.’"
Hours later, Democrat Chris King made perhaps the strongest call of any gubernatorial candidate for law enforcement to re-evaluate its decision not to charge Drejka during a news conference in front of the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center.
"This shouldn’t be over yet," Chris King said. "We should do everything in our power to investigate, to understand and to seek justice in this case."
Times staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.