1. News

Michael Drejka's defense wants to call a surprise witness: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri

Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka, left, wants the sheriff who decided not to arrest him to testify at his manslaughter trial. The defense intends to call Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri,right, to speak as an expert witness, according to a new court filing. [Times]
Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka, left, wants the sheriff who decided not to arrest him to testify at his manslaughter trial. The defense intends to call Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri,right, to speak as an expert witness, according to a new court filing. [Times]
Published Jun. 18, 2019

Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka wants the sheriff who decided not to arrest him to testify at his manslaughter trial.

Drejka's defense team intends to call Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to speak as an expert witness, according to a new court filing. The motion draws on language from Gualtieri's lengthy announcement that Drejka was acting within the bookends of Florida's stand your ground law when deputies say he shot and killed Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot last year. Prosecutors later charged Drejka with manslaughter.

If permitted, the sheriff's testimony could pit against each other two groups that are normally on the same side: law enforcement and prosecutors. But to what extent jurors will hear from Gualtieri, or whether they'll hear from him at all, is unknown.

According to the June 6 court filing, the defense expects the sheriff to testify that Drejka, 48, was in fear of further attack when he shot and killed McGlockton, 28, on July 19.

"The expert will testify that in his opinion, because Mr. Drejka was slammed to the ground that in very short order, he ... felt it necessary to defend himself," the motion says.

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 (w/video)

Gualtieri, a lawyer himself, scoffed at the idea. While he hasn't researched the court filing enough to comment further, he said, in general it would be inappropriate for him to testify about what's referred to in legal parlance as "the ultimate issue" — or what's at stake in the prosecution of a defendant, he said. That's up to the jury.

"My opinion doesn't matter. The only opinion that matters is what the jury says," he said. "Anybody can list anybody as a witness, and I'm confident the process will take care of itself and proceed accordingly."

Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub, the lead prosecutor on the case, echoed that concern. He called the move "typical gamesmanship by the defense."

"I imagine at some point in time once we've figured out why they've listed him," Schaub said, "we'll probably challenge whether or not he has any relevant testimony."

PROFILE: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is now the star cop in Florida politics. Who is he, and how did he get there?

John Trevena, one of Drejka's attorneys, disagreed. The defense team would call Gualtieri as an expert in use of lethal force, he said, a topic the 30-year law enforcement veteran is well-qualified to speak on.

"It's not about the applicability of the stand-your-ground statute," Trevena said. "It's about his interpretation of the proper use of lethal force."

It's a novel approach that could unspool in several ways, legal experts told the Tampa Bay Times.

Clearwater defense lawyer Denis deVlaming thinks it's unlikely the court will allow Gualtieri to testify at all because of his position as a sitting public official.

"The precedent that it would set would be lawyers then going to the trough of people that are known to the public to use them as believable witnesses," deVlaming said, adding that there are plenty of other experts who could speak on use of force.

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

The court could also permit Gualtieri to testify but limit what he's allowed to talk about, said Charles Rose, a former Stetson University College of Law professor.

If Gualtieri does take the stand, Drejka's lawyers could bring up hypothetical scenarios to avoid having him weigh in on the ultimate issue, said Clearwater defense lawyer Kevin Hayslett, such as describing a scenario in which a sheriff's deputy found themselves in the same situation as Drejka.

Or, Hayslett said, the entire strategy could backfire on the defense. For every statement Gualtieri made in the days after the shooting, the state could lob back information that has surfaced since that could have changed the sheriff's opinion.

"You didn't know this, did you? You didn't know this, did you?" Hayslett said as an example of what the jury could hear. "See that? Game, set, match."

Still, whether Gualtieri testifies or not, deVlaming said, it's likely the defense will play up the sheriff's original position not to arrest Drejka:

"The fact that the sheriff thought it was stand your ground — the state's going to have to buckle up on that."

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


  1. Experts recommend employers outline policies about teleworking, travel and sick leave; monitor recommendations from the CDC and local health officials; and stock up on needed office supplies and other products that might be affected by a global manufacturing slowdown. [Times (2001)]
  2. Bradley Hulett played for the Valrico Venom, an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team, and led the team in scoring last fall. Bradley, 15, was fatally shot at a friend's house in Lithia on Dec. 13, 2019. [Courtesy the Hulett family]
  3. One excursion on Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise ended prematurely Thursday when the boat took on water. [Twitter]
  4. Perched above the top floor of Daer nightclub, the 10,000-square-foot space overlooks the lagoon and the Bora Bora cabanas. [Miami Herald]
  5. Erinasha Jania Porshay Jones was booked at the Pinellas County jail Thursday on two charges of vehicular homicide in connection with the deaths of two teen girls in a Feb. 8 crash. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  6. Gayle Guyardo hugs a coworker just before leaving the News Channel 8 building after her final broadcast Friday in Tampa. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
  7. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
  8. Madeira Beach City Hall. [City of Madeira Beach]
  9. Pinellas deputies say David Keith Teal was driving at more than 120 mph over the Bayside Bridge, then was pulled over and found with drugs. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  10. Custodian James Berrien, (center) and Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins are pictured at Cypress Creek Elementary for the opening of a time capsule buried in 1991 when Eakins was a 4th-grade teacher. It was the first year that Berrien, present at the burial of the capsule, worked at the school. Febuary 27. Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020 in Ruskin.  [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
  11. Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. [Courtesy of Lynn Cristina]
  12. Dr. Peter Pritchard of Oviedo was the world's leading expert on turtles and tortoises. He displayed the world's largest collection of specimens at his Chelonian Research Institute where he gave tours to anyone for free. He died Tuesday at age 76. [Courtesy of the Chelonian Research Institute] [Chelonian Research Institute, Oviedo]