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WATCH: Sheriff explains why ‘Stand Your Ground’ shooter is not arrested

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Below is the transcript of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s press conference Friday afternoon regarding the ‘Stand Your Ground’ shooting on Thursday, July 19, 2018 in Clearwater. 

I’ll start by saying this before we go through the facts of this. I’m a big believer in this adage that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This case may be an example of that. Nonetheless, we don’t build it, we just sail it. What I mean by that is: I don’t make the law, I enforce the law.

And I have to apply the facts of every situation to the law, as the legislature has passed it, and as the governor has signed bills enacting it. And the law in the state of Florida today is that people have a right to stand their ground, and have a right to defend themselves, when they believe that they are in harm. So we’ll talk more about that. But that’s against the backdrop that this situation has to be evaluated, and has to be considered.

So, at about 3:30 yesterday afternoon [July 19, 2018], Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Circle A convenience store at 1201 Sunset Point Road in Clearwater. What we know from the investigation is that Markeis McGlockton, who’s a 28-year-old African-American male, had arrived at the store with his girlfriend Britany Jacobs. Britany parked their car in a handicapped spot by the store. Markeis and his son, who’s 5 years old, went into the store.

Another person by the name of Michael Drejka, who’s 47 years old, white male, arrived at the store. He lives in the area, and was a frequent customer of the store. And somebody who others have said complained about people parking in the handicap spots. And he had an issue with people who illegally parked in handicapped spots at that store. So apparently, Drejka gets out of his car, and is checking around Jacob’s car, and looking for handicapped decals or permits or anything that would authorize them to park where they did.

When he didn’t see that, he confronted Jacobs, and by all accounts, they got into a pretty significant yelling match. And there was no physical violence, there was no threats, but it was a disturbance. They were yelling at each other, and he was complaining about her parking in the handicapped spot.

There was another customer there at the store, and the customer went inside and told a store employee that there was a disturbance in the parking lot, and that he should do something about it, which was interpreted to mean call the police. At that point, Markeis McGlockton was in the store and learned of the disturbance in the parking lot, and it appears he learned that it was his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, who was involved in this verbal altercation with Drejka.

So he exits the store. And when he exits the store—and it’s captured on video, and we’ll show you the video here in a second—he walks out the door, and walks straight toward he, meaning he meaning Drejka, walks straight toward McGlockton. And by all witness accounts, there was no verbalizations; there were no statements that were exchanged between McGlockton and Drejka.

Let the video pretty much speak for itself but I’ll characterize it this way: McGlockton approached Drejka. He didn’t waste any time getting to him, and then he pushed him. But it isn’t just a push, he really slammed him to the ground is what it is. And he pushed him with great force. I mean this is a violent push, this isn’t just a push or a shove, this is violent and he slammed him to the ground.

So Drejka falls back, and as Drejka falls back, he is on his rear end, on the ground. And at that point, McGlockton is still a few feet away. McGlockton is facing Drejka, and Drejka’s on the ground. And when Drejka had been slammed to the ground, he then reaches—because he’s a concealed carry permit holder, and he can lawfully carry a concealed firearm—he reaches and takes out his firearm.

And at that point, McGlockton is still, again, a few feet away. He’s facing Drejka. Looks like he’s starting to turn away a little bit—maybe as we would call ‘blading’, which is kind of at an angle—but he’s not turned away, he’s still facing him. And at that point, Drejka fires one round. And it strikes McGlockton right here in the chest. At that point, McGlockton grabs his chest and retreats back into the store, where he collapses. EMS responded. He was taken to Morton Plant hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Drejka, after he shot McGlockton, took his firearm, put it in his car, and waited for law enforcement to respond. Drejka was cooperative, and during the interview what he claimed was is that he had a verbal altercation, he was approached, he was slammed to the ground, and that he was in fear. And he felt after being slammed to the ground, that the next thing was is that he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton. And that he was focused on McGlockton’s lower body, really couldn’t see his hands, but he felt that the next thing was, he was going to be slammed again, going to be struck again, and that he was in fear.

So why don’t we just—it’s very short—play the video for you, then I’ll continue on. Why don’t we go ahead and do that.

Q: For TV purposes, how much are you showing?

I’m gonna show you the whole thing. I mean it’s short, probably 15-20 seconds maybe tops, it’s short.

Q: Up to the part where he’s shot?

Oh, you’re gonna see him shot, you’re gonna see a shot.

Reporter: Oh we can’t show that.
Reporter: We don’t want to show that.

Ok well, there’s no way to do it other than…I mean you really can’t see, you’re gonna see him clutch his chest, that’s about all you can see. You’re not gonna see the, there’s no blood or anything. You guys can edit out what you want.

(video starts rolling off-camera)
That’s the car pulling in over there.

Ok so this is a little longer version.

(camera pulls out to show video on screen)

Q: Can we get a warning, right before that happens?

Sure. So that’s Drejka approaching Jacobs. And you can see, his looking around the car, looking for the handicap permit decal.

(Drejka points to her in the car, then to all the other open spots. He and Jacobs get into a conversation, it becomes heated. Lots of pointing. Yelling back and forth. Gets more aggressive. Customer enters store, and says something to the clerk. McGlockton exits store.)

OK so this is McGlockton coming out, so he’s getting ready to push him, then the shot’s gonna be fired. Then right here.

Ok so that’s the video. So if you count it, between the time that Drejka goes to the ground, and the time he shoots, it’s a count of 4 seconds. It’s a count of 4, no more than 5. It’s a very short amount of time. And what he claims—and you can tell—it’s a violent push to the ground. This isn’t just a shove. He slammed him to the ground.

And he said when he’s on the ground, because he’s in fear, that the next thing that’s gonna happen is he’s gonna be re-attacked by McGlockton, and he felt that he was in peril, and that he needed to shoot to defend himself. McGlockton was still standing there, he was still in front of him, he had the ability, the capability, to do again—or worse, what he’d already done by pushing him to the ground.

As I said there’s no verbalization between either McGlockton or by Drejka during this. And the law on ‘Stand Your Ground’ is clear, and the Florida legislature has spoken on this, and Florida legislature has created a standard, that is a largely subjective standard. This is not an objective ‘what i would do, what you would do, what the public would do, what somebody else would do’. This is more of a subjective standard. And the person’s subjective determination of the circumstance they were in. The fear that they had is relevant to the determination in whether they’re justified in the use of force.

So under these circumstances, where you have somebody that is unprovoked, slammed to the ground like that…and his statement that he believed that McGlockton was going to come back at him, and he fired in a very short amount of time. 4 seconds probably, somewhere in that range. That is within the bookends of ‘Stand Your Ground’. And within the bookends of force being justified.

And the immunity that people are granted under ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, is not just an immunity from being charged, not just an immunity from being convicted, but is an immunity from arrest. I’m gonna read this to you. This is Florida Statute 776.032, and here’s what it says under paragraph two:

“A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use or threatened use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using or threatening to use force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used or threatened was unlawful.”

So we’re precluded from making an arrest in this type of situation. Then it goes on to say:

“The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution.”

So, 1) we have to follow the law, and 2) If we don’t follow the law, we’re civilly liable for not following the requirements off Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. Importantly, the legislature this session, changed the framework for ‘Stand Your Ground’. The framework for ‘Stand Your Ground’ used to be that the defendant had to raise ‘Stand Your Ground’ as a defense, and the defendant had the burden of proving that they were entitled to immunity under ‘Stand Your Ground’.

And the legislature changed the law. And the law now is, that the state attorney has the burden of proof, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant, the shooter, is NOT entitled to ‘Stand Your Ground’. Nowhere else is there anything like this in criminal law, where somebody asserts something, and the burden then shifts to the other person. So the law is changed dramatically because you’ve got a situation here where ‘Stand Your Ground’ allows for a subjective belief by the person that they are in harm’s way, they are in fear.

In this case, this guy was slammed to the ground. In very short order, he felt it necessary–seconds– felt it necessary to defend himself because he felt he was going to be attacked again. And in order for him not to be justified, you have to take it outside of those bookends. And we are precluded from making an arrest unless we have probable cause that the person committed a crime, and we don’t have probable cause here of that.

And even if we were to charge, or if the state attorney were to charge, all he [Drejka] has to do is say (raises hand) ‘Stand Your Ground’, and then the state attorney has the burden of proof, by clear and convincing evidence, at a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing, that he is not entitled to ‘Stand Your Ground’ immunity. And that’s a very heavy standard, and it puts the burden on the state.

So, under these circumstances, we cannot make an arrest. We’re gonna refer this to the state attorney’s office. The state attorney’s office will review it, and apply the law to the facts, and make a determination as to whether something should be charged. Before ‘Stand Your Ground’, a case like this probably would have a different outcome. As you can see in there, there is a pause—even if it’s only for a couple seconds—there is a pause between the time Drejka hits the ground and he shoots. That pause gives me pause. That pause gives me some concern. And it goes back to what I said when I opened: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But I don’t get to, and we don’t get to, substitute our judgment for Drejka’s judgment.

My question is, and what I have to do is, make a determination applying the law to the facts. Is he within the framework of what the law allowed him to do? Does this law create a situation where people shoot, and ask questions later? We can have that discussion. We can have that debate. I don’t make the law. We enforce the law. And I’m gonna enforce it the way it’s written, the way the legislature intends it to be applied, and others can have the debate of whether they like it or not.

So this will go to the state attorney. Drejka will not be charged. He will not be arrested by us, because we are precluded. The state attorney will review it, and he will concur or not. And if he concurs, then there’ll be no charge. Period. If he doesn’t concur, then he’ll make a determination as to what to do with it, and if he feels like he can overcome that heavy burden at a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing by proving with clear and convincing evidence that Drejka was not entitled to use force in this circumstance, then that’s the state attorney’s determination to make.

I just ask everybody to understand—and there are a whole bunch of people, I know—and I’ve already got emails about it. People are already starting to voice concern about it, and I understand that. I don’t make the law. But I’m gonna enforce the law and I’ll enforce it fairly as the legislature has directed that it be enforced. And under these circumstances it fits within the framework that the Florida legislature has crafted for all of us to live by in this state. And I’ll take any questions that you have.

Q: So you talk about that pause, when he pushed them to the ground. You counted 4 seconds, sheriff. But he’s not coming after him during that pause, he’s not showing any more aggression. Can you go into that?

Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter, because this guy’s on the ground. And no matter how you slice it or dice it, that was a violent push to the ground. That was a slam to the ground. So he pushed him to the ground, he violently goes back to the ground, then he’s sitting there, he takes the gun out, and what he’s seeing and what he’s saying in his mind is ‘This guy’s gonna come at me again’ and he fires.

Is that within the bookends of a reasonable belief on his part, under those circumstances, at that time, yeah it’s within the bookends. Now you can say ‘is it on the fringe of the bookends?’ I don’t know. I’ll leave that to others to judge. But is it within the bookends, legitimately could he be in fear, after being slammed to the ground, could he be in fear that the next thing is this guy’s coming at him again, when the guy is standing right there, and he’s standing right there like this? Yes. He could. And could, COULD, he have said, hold him at gunpoint, and you can cut that both ways. He could hold him at gunpoint and not fire? Yeah, he could have done that.

But he could also hold him at gunpoint–that could go towards his legitimate fear. The guy didn’t turn around and run away real fast. And the guy didn’t do anything and say ‘hey man, we’re good’ or something. He didn’t do any of that. So it cuts towards this guy’s belief, in his mind, that he’s going to be harmed again, and he had to shoot to defend himself. And those are the facts. And that’s the law.

Q: But there were no direct words between the two men that you know of?

And I’m not gonna get into altering the facts. Because altering the facts alters the outcome. But if you were to get into that exercise, and you were to alter the facts further to the left or further to the right and change this scenario, it could have a different outcome. And if there were an exchange of information, and if the exchange of information was Markeis McGlockton making threats to him, verbalizing and saying things that buttressed his belief that he was in harm, imminent harm, that cuts more towards he was justified in the shooting.

If Markeis McGlockton was saying stuff like ‘hey man we’re good’ then it cuts the other way. If you have longer time—like 8 or 10 or 15 or 20 seconds and McGlockton had turned away—then that changes the outcome. But we can’t change the outcome. We cannot change the facts. The facts are that he approached him, slammed him on the ground, and within about a 4-count, he fired. And no words were exchanged. We’ve got to use only the facts. And the facts are clear based upon video and eyewitness accounts.

Q: Speaking to the owner of the store, he tells us that the man who fired the shots is a nuisance there, that he’s caused problems in the past with other people. Do you know, are you familiar with this person? Have you been called there to deal with problems that this guy started in the past?

I’m not aware that we’ve been called there to deal with him in the past. There have been some incidents in the past, and we’re aware of those incidents. But what’s material here is what happened at that instant. You know—and we have to recognize—that if Markeis McGlockton had not walked up to him and slammed him the way he did on the ground, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion either.

So what’s relevant is not whether this guy is a good guy, a nice guy, whether he’s a jerk, whether he’s a thorn in people’s sides, and what he’s done. Whether it’s 3 weeks ago, 3 months ago or 3 years ago, what’s relevant—and the only thing we can look at here—is he in fear of further bodily harm because of what Markeis McGlockton did? And did he have the ability and the capability to carry this out? And the answer is yes. So that’s what we gotta look at.

And I’m not saying this guy…he might be a jerk, he might be a thorn in people’s side, he might be all of those things. That doesn’t matter. What matters is, did Markeis McGlockton slam him to the ground? Yeah he did. And was this guy put on his rear end, and in a position to do what he thinks McGlockton was getting ready to do, which was to come at him again and harm him? Yes. And does Florida law allow you to defend yourself and ‘Stand Your Ground’? It does. That’s what the Florida legislature has said.

Our job and our role is to not substitute our judgment for the law and what the legislature has crafted as a framework, but to enforce it equally and fairly as we’re required to do. I’m not saying I agree with it, but I don’t make that call.

Q: Do you disagree with it? Would you come out and say you disagree with it?

Well, I’ll say this. I’m a firm believer in the adage ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’. But I’ll also say this: I’m not gonna substitute my judgment for Drejka’s judgment after having been slammed to the ground either. And from his perspective sitting there on the ground, and within a few seconds, he took the gun out and made a decision. So it really doesn’t matter what I would‘ve done or what anybody else would’ve done. So would I have done something different? You know it’s the difference between what a law enforcement officer would’ve done. And this guy’s not. He’s just a citizen. He thought he had to defend himself.

Q: But sheriff, where does the law come into play where he’s running out thinking that his family is being threatened and he feels like he has to defend his family?

There’s no evidence of that. And that’s what you have to be real careful with. I get the tendency. But you can’t impute facts that don’t exist. And there is no evidence. No testimony. No witness accounts that his family was in harm’s way at all. It was purely verbal. Purely verbal. And by all accounts, there weren’t even any threats. They’re just arguing back and forth about the handicapped spot.

I’m guessing, but we can’t talk to Markeis because he’s deceased, what was going through his mind. He probably didn’t like the fact–and I don’t think it takes a giant leap to get there–he probably didn’t like the way this guy was talking to his girlfriend. But, also, you know, Markeis shouldn’t have gone up and slammed him to the ground either. He should’ve said ‘look, knock it off’. You know? He didn’t have a right.

Markeis engaged in unlawful conduct himself. Markeis should not have gone up and slammed this guy to the ground. Markeis wouldn’t be dead if Markeis didn’t slam this guy to the ground. So Markeis has got skin in this game, too. And the reason why it makes it justified, and within the framework of ‘Stand Your Ground’, is because of what Markeis did.

It’s sad. It’s really sad. And again, we can have a discussion about what we would’ve done, or what the law would be, or what we would’ve done prior to ‘Stand Your Ground’ or prior to even the change that puts the burden on the state, and makes it a clear and convincing evidence standard. We can have those hypothetical conversations all day long. But I don’t live in a hypothetical world. I live in a world of, what’s the law, what are the facts, and how are we gonna apply it as directed.

Q: But are you frustrated with especially this change now that puts the burden of proof on the state attorney? Can you tell us if that’s frustrating for you in your job?

You know, it’s a mixed bag I’d say. You know, I mean, there are times…people should be able to defend themselves. They should. And I can give you—we can come up with situations and scenarios where I do believe ‘’Stand Your Ground’ has its place. And I do think it’s something that can be properly used.

So as an example: before ‘Stand Your Ground’, if somebody’s walking in the mall parking lot, and somebody comes up and attacks them, is that they’re required to make an effort at least, or reasonably retreat, before they can use force. I don’t think if somebody comes up to you in the mall parking lot and tries to rob you, that before you can use force and defend yourself, you should be required, there should be a requirement in the law to retreat first.

Then you get the other end of the spectrum, which, somebody could certainly make the case, ‘well maybe this guy should’ve handled this differently. So that’s why you got a range. And you’ve got bookends. And you’re gonna have things that fall towards one end of the bookend or the other. But I think there’s an argument that this falls maybe towards one end of the bookend. But it doesn’t take it outside the bookend. And it doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And I see…where there can be benefit, and the right thing, for people to protect themselves. Look, nobody has a right to harm somebody else. Nobody has a right to commit a crime against somebody else. And no matter how you slice it, dice it or otherwise, what you got to come back to is that Markeis McGlockton wouldn’t be dead unless Markeis McGlockton slammed this guy to the ground.

And, you know, don’t put your hands on people. Don’t slam them to the ground. And if you do, you’re taking a chance that that person might be a concealed carry permit holder, and they may decide that they’re in fear and they’re gonna defend themselves ha. That’s the world we live in. So don’t slam people to the ground (shrugs). And people have a right to do that, to defend themselves. 

Q: How long do you think the state attorney’s office is gonna have this investigation?

I have no way of knowing that. I can’t comment on that. It’ll take us a few days to package it all up, and do the reports, and get everything together, and then submit it to him. Then the state attorney will conduct his own investigation and evaluate it. But I can tell you that it’s not gonna be short order, if that’s what you’re asking. Are we talking hours or days? Or weeks or months? Well it’s not hours or days, and that’ll be up to the state attorney to make that determination. But it’ll take them some time to evaluate it. Anything else? Ok, all right.

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