Friday, August 17, 2018
News Roundup

Shooter in Florida parking space argument had history of road rage, records show

The Clearwater man who shot and killed a father of three outside a convenience store in a parking dispute last month — setting off a stand your ground debate that has swept Florida and the nation — has a history of road rage.

Since 2012, according to records and interviews, 47-year-old Michael Drejka has been the accused aggressor in four incidents. Investigators documented three cases in police reports.

The other was not shared with authorities at the time but involved the same handicap-reserved parking spot outside the Circle A Food Store near Clearwater and another shooting threat.

Two involved allegations of Drejka showing a gun. In another, a trooper accused him of aggressive driving and cited him after a crash when Drejka braked hard in front of a woman driving with two children.

Drejka has not spoken publicly in the weeks since he shot and killed 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton. No one has spoken much about him, either. Not family. Not neighbors. Not lawyers. Several alleged victims in previous incidents either declined to comment or could not be reached. Drejka remains, in many ways, an enigma to the public. He has not been arrested.

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

In the latest stand your ground controversy, Drejka is the key surviving player, yet people don’t even know what he looks like. He’s just a blurry figure on the ground in a grainy surveillance video, arms straight, head tilted as he pulls the trigger. He has no criminal record in Florida and no discernible social media presence.

ANALYSIS: In latest ‘stand your ground’ case, a question: Who started it?

The police reports describe a man quick to anger, but who always denied he threatened anyone with a gun. Former prosecutors said the earlier cases could possibly be used if Drejka is brought to trial, as evidence that he pulled out his weapon because he was frustrated, not afraid.

Twice investigators admonished Drejka, telling him he was fortunate the alleged victims of his road rage did not want to press charges.

If they had, an officer once said, authorities could have revoked his concealed carry permit.

WHERE THEY HAPPENED: Previous incidents involving accused stand your ground shooter

• • •

The two 18-year-olds called authorities when the black truck was still behind them.

One said he had stopped at a yellow light about noon on Jan. 10, 2012, and the man in the pickup began to honk and yell out the window. He motioned for the teen to walk back to the truck, according to the 18-year-old, then hung a black handgun out the window, taking out the magazine and putting it on his dashboard alongside another magazine.

The 18-year-old said he drove away with his friend, on U.S. 19 around Sunset Point Road, but the truck followed, then passed. The man slammed on his brakes, the teen recalled, and turned into the parking lot of an Arby’s at Curlew Road. The 18-year-old said he kept driving, but soon the black truck, a Toyota, had returned.

The man eventually broke off in a different direction, the teens said, but they had taken down his license plate number. Deputies traced it to Drejka and went to his house in Clearwater, according to the police report. He pulled into the driveway as they were leaving a business card.

Drejka told the deputy the other car had cut him off at State Road 580 and U.S. 19. He said he honked and yelled but did not follow the other car and did not show a gun. He did have one, however, a .40-caliber Glock in his center console. He also had a concealed carry permit.

The deputy was skeptical, according to the report, asking Drejka how the teens knew he had a gun.

The deputy wrote: "I informed Michael if he had displayed his weapon that he was lucky (the teens) did not wish to press charges."

• • •

A Largo police officer was driving later that year when several people in another car pulled up to him on Highland Avenue to make a report.

A man in a black Toyota pickup had just threatened one of them with a gun, they said, pointing it out. They drove off, but the officer turned around to follow the truck on Dec. 13, 2012.

The driver of the Toyota pulled into a church parking lot before the officer could make a traffic stop. By the time the officer approached, Drejka already held his driver’s license and concealed carry permit in hand.

He said "he had not pointed a gun at the other car," according to a police report, and that the other people were lying, before the officer asked any questions.

Drejka had tucked a .40-caliber Glock between his seat and center console. He said he always kept it there while driving, according to the report. The officer asked him to step out of the truck and found a loose bullet near the gas pedal and a loaded magazine below the seat. Drejka wore a holster inside his shorts behind his right hip.

"I could still see the impression of the gun in his skin," the officer wrote.

Drejka told the officer he honked at the people in the other car but never showed them his gun. He said he did not think they were driving fast enough in a school zone, where the speed limit was 15 mph. The people in the other car, Drejka said, threw up their middle fingers as soon as he honked, and one of them had shouted at him.

The officer wrote that he asked what the man in the other car had said, and "Michael contorted his face while doing a gruff Spanish accent, saying ‘You got a gun in your truck, you got a gun in your truck.’"

The officer didn’t believe Drejka and said it would be strange for someone to shout about a gun if they hadn’t already seen it.

The officer wrote that there was "no doubt" Drejka pulled his gun. But the victims drove off, so the officer did not arrest him.

"I advised him his (concealed carry) permit did not give him the right to exhibit (a gun) because he was ‘flipped off’ for honking at someone," the officer wrote. "I told him a report would be taken and that if the victim was located he could face jail and the loss of his (concealed carry permit)."

• • •

A Florida Highway Patrol trooper responded to a car crash at Alt. U.S. 19 and Pennsylvania Avenue less than a year later.

A woman in a Ford Edge had crashed into the back of Drejka’s pickup. She had two children, ages 4 and 7, in her vehicle, but no one was hurt.

The woman said she was turning and had pulled into the center lane, waiting for the truck to pass, but Drejka said he thought she had almost hit him. He "began to slam on his brakes," according to a crash report, "decreasing his speed quickly in an aggressive manner."

The woman smashed into the back of his truck shortly before 3 p.m. Nov. 13, 2013.

Drejka "admitted that he was ‘brake checking’" the woman, the trooper wrote. He was cited for stopping or making a sudden decrease in speed without signaling. The woman’s car had to be towed from the scene, according to the report, and the trooper estimated the damage at $8,000.

• • •

A couple of months ago, Drejka was in the same parking lot outside the same Circle A Food Store at 1201 Sunset Point Road arguing over the same handicap-reserved space, according to a man who said Drejka threatened to shoot him.

Rick Kelly, 31, told the Tampa Bay Times that Drejka circled his tanker truck and confronted him about why he parked there.

Kelly asked why it mattered. He recalled that Drejka said his mom (whom records show died in 2007) is handicapped.

The argument escalated. Drejka yelled, Kelly said, and used a racial slur. Kelly is black. Drejka is white.

Drejka, he said, threatened to shoot him.

But the dispute didn’t end there.

Drejka called the Clearwater septic tank company Kelly works for to complain, telling owner John Tyler that he didn’t like the way Kelly had talked to him and that he was "lucky I didn’t blow his head off."

Tyler, a gun owner himself, told the Times he was shocked.

"I said, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, that you feel that it’s justified to take someone’s life over a parking space,’" he said. "That was the chilling part about it when I found out who it was with the (McGlockton) situation."

• • •

Drejka’s case is before the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, which will decide if he should face charges in McGlockton’s death.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri declined to arrest him, citing Florida’s stand your ground law. He has said the Sheriff’s Office could have faced a wrongful arrest suit if the case did not go forward.

Legal experts said Drejka’s previous road rage incidents could come into play if he is charged, especially if his defense team were to argue stand your ground.

The statute applies when a person has reasonable fear for his life or serious injury. Shortly before the shooting, surveillance footage shows, McGlockton pushed Drejka to the ground as Drejka argued with McGlockton’s girlfriend about the handicap-reserved parking space.

Former Pinellas prosecutor Bill Loughery said the other dispute over parking at the store, and the two driving confrontations involving guns, could show Drejka "uses his gun in an unreasonable fashion."

"(If) he had a propensity to use or show his gun in unreasonable circumstances, that would definitely affect whether he behaved in a reasonable manner," Loughery said.

Bob Dekle, a former prosecutor and professor emeritus at the University of Florida, said prior cases are not always admissible, but prosecutors may argue Drejka’s history offers evidence about his mindset.

"If he wasn’t in fear," Dekle said, "self defense is not an issue and stand your ground is not an issue."

The state attorney, he said, could use the previous cases to try to prove the shooting was in fact "not a product of fear, but a product of anger."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson. Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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