TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A civil lawsuit tied to a shooting in a Tampa parking lot fell short of testing the stand your ground law when the two sides settled the case, but the tragedy still highlights issues with Florida’s self-defense law.
Decorated Navy SEAL Tim Martin, 37, was shot on Thanksgiving weekend in 2015 by SoHo Backyard co-owner Jeffrey Glenn. Investigators said Glenn left a fist fight with Martin outside the restaurant, walked inside the building and returned with a gun.
Martin was shot in the head and died hours later at the hospital. His younger sister Hannah Fager, who said she could not comment on the settlement, talked publicly about the shooting for the first time three weeks ago, saying she wanted to give her brother a voice.
“[Glenn] didn’t lock the door of the bar. He didn’t call the police. He shot my brother,” Fager said at the time. “He came out and pursued my brother. How is that stand your ground?”
Former Hillsbrough County State Attorney Mark Ober decided the shooting was self-defense, citing threatening text messages Martin sent about Glenn to mutual friend Brett Cardoso.
“She’s dead…so is Jeff,” one text read, referencing Glenn, and Martin’s former girlfriend who Glenn was dating at the time of the fight.
Current State Attorney Andrew Warren blamed the law itself in deciding against criminal charges, calling the Florida self-defense law, “misguided.”
None of the defendants – Glenn, Cardoso and SoHo Backyard parent-company Dayman Entertainment, LLC, – has responded to requests made to their attorney for comment about the settlement that was reached over the weekend after a jury was seated on Friday.
Stetson law professor Judith Scully questioned the use of stand your ground in the case, since investigators said Glenn left the fist fight and returned with a gun.
“You are the one being aggressive in that situation and potentially causing greater harm,” Scully said. “Where is the imminent danger?”
In a civil case ruling that was backed by a state Supreme Court opinion, Judge Emily Peacock agreed, denying Glenn’s motion to dismiss based on stand your ground, pointing out “there were no weapons used” in the fist fight.
“There was not a reasonable basis for Mr. Glenn to believe Mr. Martin could cause deadly or serious harm,” Peacock wrote in her decision. “Particularly when Mr. Glenn has disengaged from the initial physical confrontation.”
But she added that is her opinion of what “reasonable fear” is, and a decision made without hearing the defense argument.
She also said the legal definition of “reasonable” can be tricky and, no doubt, subject to interpretation by a prosecutor or a jury.
“What’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable?” Scully said. “What should the average individual assume about other individuals in terms of the threats they pose?”
And what may make the concept of self-defense trickier in Florida is the law allows a wider scenario of where one can legally stand their ground. Across the country, 32 states have stand your ground-style laws but, according to Scully, most include limits for where someone can claim self-defense.
Homes and backyards are common places where deadly force can be used, according to these laws, and other states expand that to include inside vehicles or places of employment.
But Florida’s law is much broader, Scully said.
“So one way to help prosecutors decide what is homicide and what is self-defense is to narrow the number of cases that fall under that umbrella,” Scully said. “It really is up to the legislature.”
Still in play is a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis from Veterans’ Advocate Travis Horn, asking for a new prosecutor to present the case to a jury.
“Let them decide whether it’s met the burden because that’s the duty of the 12 people we put in a jury box,” Horn said at a news conference earlier this month.
Horn said he could not comment on the settlement.
Settlement documents are currently unavailable, but its unlikely any terms of the agreement would be disclosed.
Earlier this month, Fager said any money from the lawsuit would help provide for Martin’s son who is now 10. He was expected to offer testimony at the trial.