Clearwater parking lot shooter Michael Drejka’s attorneys have filed a longshot motion asking the judge to disqualify the prosecutors on the case, saying they gave in to political pressure when they charged Drejka with manslaughter.
The motion, filed Wednesday by Largo defense attorney John Trevena, makes the case that politicians, community organizers and lawyers representing family members of the shooting victim, Markeis McGlockton, turned the case into a national spectacle that wrongly portrays Drejka as a gun-toting hot head who shot someone over a parking space. It also challenges what Trevena wrote was a misleading narrative that Drejka, who is white, was motivated by race when he pulled the trigger on McGlockton, who is black.
The filing notes that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri didn't initially arrest Drejka, 48, because his actions fell within the bookends of stand your ground, meaning he was immune from arrest. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe charged Drejka with manslaughter about three weeks later.
"Mr. Drejka could face decades in prison," Trevena wrote, "because the State Attorney's Office and the sheriff could not stand their ground on stand your ground."
State Attorney's Office officials and the sheriff gave a strong rebuke of the motion. Gualtieri said he stands by his decision, which he made based on language in the stand-your-ground law. Any claim that political pressure factored into the process is "flat-out wrong," he said.
Scott Rosenwasser, one of the prosecutors, echoed that denial and emphasized that his office is independent from the Sheriff's Office. He added that the motion is riddled with inaccuracies, such as that his agency and the Sheriff's Office have an attorney-client relationship. Trevena wrote that relationship creates a conflict of interest between the parties because they came to different conclusions.
In a case like this, "there's no legal precedent to recuse the State Attorney's Office," Rosenwasser said, adding that he and his partner, Fred Schaub, will file a response.
State Attorney Bernie McCabe took it a step further, calling the motion, which not only asks to disqualify Rosenwasser and Schaub but any prosecutors from McCabe's office, "so ludicrous it boggles my mind."
"I have never seen a more ludicrous, frivolous motion filed that I can think of," the 45-year prosecutor said. "The only objective I can see from filing that motion is that a particular lawyer wants to see his name in the paper or do another television interview."
Trevena draws on rallies and vigils between the July 19 shooting and Drejka's Aug. 13 arrest to demonstrate what he calls the "Crump hype machine," referring to Benjamin Crump, the nationally prominent civil rights lawyer hired by McGlockton's girlfriend, Britany Jacobs. Crump also represented the parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old shot in 2012 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Adding to the furor, according to the motion, were Michele Rayner-Goolsby, a Clearwater civil rights attorney representing McGlockton's parents; state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who called for a special session to repeal stand your ground; and representatives from the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP and Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance, both of which organized events calling for Drejka's arrest. The shooting was captured on surveillance video.
During one news conference, Crump called the shooting a "cold-blooded murder" by a "self-appointed wannabe cop" and refers to Drejka as the initial aggressor. Trevena disputed that notion. His client did confront Jacobs about why she had parked in a handicap-reserved parking space without a permit, but the shooting came as a response to a "potentially lethal" attack by 28-year-old McGlockton, who didn't know what Jacobs and Drejka were fighting about. He was inside a convenience store when the fight started and didn't speak to Drejka before pushing him.
"Our duty is to represent our client zealously and represent him as effectively as possible," Trevena said Thursday, "and that could not be done without exposing the inappropriate strategy that was being employed by the McGlockton attorneys and that the state was bowing to."
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At the same news conference, Crump said last year that Gualtieri would have arrested Drejka immediately had their races been reversed. The Sheriff's Office investigation didn't include evidence the shooting was racially motivated.
Crump did not return a request for comment. In a statement, Rayner-Goolsby said, “We have to see this tactic as what is — a thinly veiled attempt to prolong this matter and to muddy the jury pool ... We will continue to push back against the harmful narratives being used to dehumanize him (McGlockton) in death.”
The motion also surfaces an encounter between Drejka and McGlockton's father, Michael McGlockton, before a hearing June 7. According to a Sheriff's Office report, Michael McGlockton told Drejka, "I'm going to be the last face you ever see." The case was closed as non-criminal. Trevena argued that McGlockton should have been arrested and that the incident adds to the conflict-of-interest between McGlockton's family and the state.
Exchanging angry words with someone isn't a crime, prosecutor Rosenwasser said, and Trevena is grandstanding.
It will be up to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone to decide whether to grant Drejka's motion and appoint a special prosecutor. If he denies it, Trevena said he plans to take it up with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.