CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Friday that his agency will not arrest a man deputies say shot and killed another man during an argument over a handicap parking space.
The incident falls under Florida's self-defense law known as "stand your ground," the sheriff said during a news conference. The law gives immunity to those in fear of their lives who use force to defend themselves.
The shooting "is within the bookends of 'stand your ground' and within the bookends of force being justified," the sheriff said, later adding, "I'm not saying I agree with it, but I don't make that call."
The agency will forward the case to the State Attorney's Office for a final decision, Gualtieri said.
The confrontation between Michael Drejka, 47, and Markeis McGlockton, 28, took place in a convenience store parking lot Thursday afternoon. According to deputies, Drejka confronted McGlockton's girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, about parking in a handicap space without a permit.
McGlockton went up to Drejka and "slammed him to the ground," the sheriff said. Drejka, seconds later while still on the ground, pulled out his handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. The father of three was pronounced dead soon after.
Drejka could not be reached for comment Friday. But Gualtieri said Drejka told deputies that he was he was in fear of being attacked again. He owned the gun legally and had a concealed carry permit.
"Our job and our role is not to substitute our judgment for the law and what the Legislature has crafted as the framework," he said, "but to enforce it equally and fairly as we're required to do."
In an interview Friday, Jacobs expressed a different opinion.
"It's a wrongful death. It's messed up. Markeis is a good man … He was just protecting us, you know?" Jacobs, 25, said Friday. "And it hurts so bad."
She broke down in tears.
McGlockton was her high-school sweetheart, she said. The pair had been together since 2009, when she met him at a friend's house while attending Dunedin High.
They stopped at the Circle A Food Store at 1201 Sunset Point Road on the way home from picking Jacobs up from her job as a certified nursing assistant to grab chips and drinks. Jacobs parked in the handicap spot, she said, because the parking lot was busy and they were just stopping for a minute.
The couple's 4-month-old and 3-year-old were in the car. Their 5-year-old, named after McGlockton, was in the store. After the shooting, when his father walked in and collapsed, the boy witnessed his mother applying pressure to the wound with a shirt, Jacobs said.
"He's not too good," Jacobs said. "It comes and goes, but he knows he (his father) is dead."
Jacobs said she's in the process of hiring a lawyer to see what her options are. She said she wants justice, emphasizing that Drejka went up to her.
"He's getting out like he's a police officer or something, and he's approaching me," she said. "I minded my own business … I didn't do anything wrong."
"Stand your ground" has been mired in controversy since the Legislature passed the law in 2005. Floridians could always defend themselves, but the law expanded that right, saying there is no longer a duty to retreat in a violent encounter before turning to self-defense.
The law went even further last year, when lawmakers shifted the burden of proof from defense attorneys to prosecutors.
At the news conference, Gualtieri, who is also a lawyer, said the outcome may have been different before "stand your ground," and maybe even before last year's revision, pointing out there's a few-second pause between the time Drejka hits the ground and the time he shoots.
"That pause gives me pause," the sheriff said, invoking an adage: "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."
He continued: "But I don't get to, and we don't get to, substitute our judgment for Drejka's judgment."
Records show Drejka does not have a criminal history in Florida, although the Sheriff's Office had prior contact with him in 2012 when a driver accused him of pulling a gun during a road rage incident. Drejka denied he showed the gun, and the accuser declined to press charges. McGlockton's history included a drug conviction in 2010 and an arrest for aggravated battery a decade ago, records show, but the charge was dropped.
Gualtieri said only the details surrounding Thursday's incident are relevant when assessing the "stand your ground" claim.
At the convenience store Friday, customers filed in and out, buying cigarettes, lottery tickets and sodas, many of them familiar with details of the shooting. Mustafa Hashen, a clerk and witness, said both men were regulars.
It wasn't the first time he saw Drejka in a fight with another customer. A couple of months back, Rick Kelly stopped by the store, parking his tanker truck in the same handicap spot.
The details to Thursday's incident are similar: Drejka walking around the truck checking for decals, then confronting Kelly, 31, about why he parked there. The fight escalated, and Drejka threatened to shoot him, Kelly said.
"It's a repeat. It happened to me the first time. The second time it's happening, someone's life got taken," Kelly said. "He provoked that."
Staff writer Laura C. Morel and senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.