Florida’s stand your ground law needs an overhaul | Column
The writer, a conservative Republican whose son was shot to death, provides a cautionary tale.
Sandy Modell (left) with his son, Ryan Modell.
Sandy Modell (left) with his son, Ryan Modell. [ Courtesy of Sandy Modell ]
Published Dec. 9, 2020|Updated Dec. 9, 2020

The images of lawless looters and protesters taking over entire neighborhoods in American cities in recent months apparently horrified Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as much as they horrified me. In September, he responded to the anti-police protests that followed the death of George Floyd by proposing the “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” to impede violent and disorderly assemblies.

Sandy Modell
Sandy Modell [ Courtesy of Sandy Modell ]

I fully understand how Floridians may like the idea of expanding the state’s stand your ground self-defense law to combat looting and lawlessness. They should understand, however, how misinterpretations of stand your ground have turned it into Florida’s License To Kill law. I am a lifelong, conservative Republican and fervent Second Amendment supporter who learned this all too painfully when my son was shot to death in 2016.

The anti-protest bill backed by the governor has yet to be filed, but according to the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, the broad proposal among other things could expand Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law to justify deadly force against people participating in burglary within 500 feet of a violent or disorderly assembly or engaging in criminal mischief that causes the “interruption or impairment” of a business.

No question looting and lawlessness must be stopped. But I can attest to how knee-jerk legislation and misguided or bogus legal interpretations can thwart justice.

In March 2016, my 32-year-old son and best friend, Ryan Modell, made the fatal mistake of knocking on the wrong door of his girlfriend’s condo complex in Fort Myers. She lived in Unit 102. Ryan had been celebrating a new job and apparently was intoxicated when, dressed only in shorts, went to Unit 102 in an identical complex building. He woke up a neighbor, Steve Taylor, who told investigators he and Ryan exchanged words and that he bloodied Ryan’s bare foot after shutting the door on it.

Ryan then walked away from the property and found a hose to clean his injured foot. Rather than stay inside his home and safely wait for law enforcement to arrive, Taylor decided to follow Ryan with his laser-sighted 10 mm Glock. He said he shot my unarmed son in the chest after shining his handgun’s laser scope in Ryan’s face, and Ryan came at him.

My son drank too much. Ryan probably deserved a disorderly conduct citation. He did not deserve a bullet to the chest from someone who pursued him after my son left the man’s property.

You can Google Ryan Modell and stand your ground to verify this story. You will find media reports about the state attorney in Southwest Florida spending more than a year reviewing the case before deciding the shooting was justified under stand your ground. He did not even allow a grand jury to review the evidence.

Few experts understand Florida’s stand your ground law better than attorney Ben Crump, who represented Trayvon Martin’s family after his 2012 death, and attorney Mark O’Mara, who successfully defended George Zimmerman in that case. Crump and O’Mara agree stand your ground never should have applied to my son’s case, and both have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to appoint an independent prosecutor to review the matter. We have yet to hear back from the governor.

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I have heard from the man who shot my son: “Your son lived for nothing and died for even less,” he texted me last year, angry about my continuing quest for a review of the case.

As a law-and-order Republican who supported President Donald Trump and Gov. DeSantis, I pray the governor will allow an independent review of my son’s murder.

And I pray that Florida leaders tread very carefully as they look at expanding stand your ground in the name of law enforcement. The sanctity of life should matter above all else.

Sandy Modell is a businessman in Winter Park and an adjunct professor at University of Central Florida.