Attorney speaking out about Lakeland City Commissioner at center of shooting investigation

Polk County

A Lakeland city commissioner who owns a local military surplus store is at the center of death investigation after police say he gunned down a man trying to steal a hatchet. 

Lakeland police were called to a shooting at Vets Army Navy Surplus just after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Investigators say the store’s owner, city commissioner Michael Dunn, told them he noticed a man in the store trying to sneak off with a hatchet he didn’t pay for. 

Police say a fight then broke out when Dunn confronted the man, 50-year-old Cristobal Lopez.

Dunn stopped Lopez and asked him if he was going to pay for the item and a confrontation ensued.

That’s when Dunn reportedly shot Lopez, hatchet still in hand. 

“The hatchet was stuffed down the shoplifters pants by him. It was concealed. That was observed by Michael directly. He went around and gave the person an opportunity to pay. He was told that he had been observed shoplifting, and then he was going to leave. The hatchet came out of his pants, it was in his hand and it was being held by him, and that’s what Michael observed. As to whether or not it was doing the tomahawk chop or anything like that, that’s not something that I know,” Dunn’s Attorney Rusty Franklin said. 

When asked if Dunn feared for his safety, Franklin said, “Of course. I mean there was a person who is shoplifting, who has a weapon.”

Franklin went on to say, “He has a business, and he has to protect his business. It’s a place where weapons, firearms, are lawfully sold. He acted responsibly and legally. To think that anyone would be joyous or happy about a death, that’s just not him.”

No one else was injured in the shooting, including Lopez’s father who was in the store with him at the time. 

In addition to Lopez’s father and Dunn, detectives interviewed two store employees working at the time.

8 On Your Side learned Lopez was homeless and staying off and on at a nearby homeless shelter. 

During the interview Franklin also pointed out that Lopez has a lengthy criminal record in Hardee, Highlands and Desoto counties. Franklin said he was turning that information over to the State Attorney to investigate.

The criminal investigation is ongoing.

Franklin said Dunn plans to continue operating his business and continue his duties as a City Commissioner during the investigation.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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