The Florida sheriff who declined to arrest a white man who invoked the "stand your ground" law after shooting a black man in a parking dispute said Tuesday that he made the "correct" decision.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference that he sticks by his decision not to arrest Michael Drejka, 47, in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton, 28, in Clearwater, Florida.
"A lot of things have been said since this incident happened on July 19," Gualtieri said. "A whole bunch of people offered a whole bunch of different opinions. And I'd suggest to you that the mere fact that so many people have so many different opinions validates that the decision not to arrest Drejka in this stage is correct under the law."
Gualtieri said the investigation of the shooting is ongoing and the final decision on whether charges against Drejka are warranted will be up to Bernie McCabe, the Pinellas County state attorney.
"We have not turned the case over to the state attorney's office but we anticipate doing so shortly," Gualtieri said. "This is a very long route on a path and this was the first stop on that route. So just picture a bus route with a bunch of different stops and this was the first stop. This is not the final stop."
The sheriff said he was initially supposed to be joined by members of the Upper Pinellas County NAACP and the Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance but both groups canceled on him a half hour before the press conference.
McGlockton was shot on July 19 after he came out of a convenience store and saw Drejka berating his girlfriend, Britnay Jacobs, about parking in a handicap zone. Surveillance video showed McGlockton shoving Drejka to the ground and Drejka, who had a legal concealed weapons permit, pulling a handgun and shooting McGlockton.
Attorneys for Jacobs, the mother of McGlockton's three young children and McGlockton's parents have held several press conferences to say they do not believe Drejka should have been given immunity from arrest under "stand your ground."
"You can't start a confrontation and kill somebody and say, 'Oh, I was just standing my ground,'" Jacobs attorney, Benjamin Crump, said at a press conference on Thursday.
Michele Rayner, an attorney representing McGlockton's parents, added that the "stand your ground" statute requires the existence of a "reasonable fear that you are in imminent danger of losing your life or [suffering] great bodily injury."
They pointed out that the video shows McGlockton retreating from Drejka after he pushed the man down in an effort to protect Jacobs and his children.
"It took four seconds for Mr. Drejka to make that decision, the conscious decision to murder Markeis McGlockton," Rayner said as she dramatically counted off four seconds.
But Gualtieri said the statute also reads that someone is "immune from arrest if their conduct is arguably within the parameters of 'stand your ground.'"
"The law has taken away law enforcement discretion to arrest unless there is no 'stand your ground' as a matter of law," Gualtieri said. "To arrest, it must be so clear that as a matter of law 'stand your ground' does not apply in any way to the facts and circumstances that you're presented with. That is not the situation here. The facts are not so clear that this is absolutely outside the boundaries of 'stand your ground.'"
He continued, "So my decision not to arrest is merely doing what Florida law compels: Don't leave somebody sitting in jail who claims they acted in self-defense while the state attorney figures it out and makes his decision, which could take weeks or months."
He said people questioning his decision are apparently stating opinions based on one version of the surveillance video that captured the shooting.
"Accurate facts matter and all the evidence must be fully considered in any case, but especially in a case like this before anyone forms a final opinion," Gualtieri said. "That includes opinions formed based on camera angles without the benefit of witness statements."
While he said there is only one video, he has viewed it slowed down, enhanced and blown up.
"Remember you all don't have all of the facts and have not seen all of the evidence because it is an ongoing investigation," the sheriff said. "I've seen the evidence."
He added, "I don't make the law and I do not do what people want because of outrage. If you're outraged by the law and don't like the law then change it. But until then, we follow it as written and interpreted by the courts."