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Sheriff defends ‘stand your ground’ decision in convenience store shooting

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri discuss the controversial shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a news conference discussing the Stand Your Ground Law at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Administration Building in Largo, Fla., on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri stood alone Tuesday morning during a news conference originally planned to include leaders from local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ministerial Alliance to discuss the shooting of Markeis McGlockton.

The advocacy groups canceled on him about half an hour before the 10 a.m. conference, the sheriff said. Presidents of the Upper Pinellas chapters of each organization could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

Still, Gualtieri continued with prepared remarks doubling down on his interpretation that Florida’s “stand your ground” law precluded him from arresting 47-year-old Michael Drejka. Authorities say Drejka shot and killed McGlockton, 28, July 19 during a fight over a parking space at a convenience store near Clearwater.

The sheriff also emphasized that his decision is only preliminary. The Pinellas-Pasco state attorney’s office will have the final say in whether Drejka will be charged.

“Picture a bus route with a bunch of different stops, and this is the first stop,” said Gualtieri, who is also a lawyer. “I make a decision about arrest. The state attorney makes a decision about charges. That’s our system.”

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Tuesday marks Gualtieri’s first public appearance since his announcement July 20 that his agency would not arrest Drejka. Since then, the case has reignited a national debate over the controversial self-defense law. Some legal experts have defended Gualtieri’s decision, while others, including the bill’s authors, have told the news website Politico that he’s interpreting the law incorrectly.

The NAACP and Ministerial Alliance have taken lead roles in rallying the community since the shooting. The groups helped organize a vigil and town hall meeting, and leaders from each organization have attended news conferences involving McGlockton’s family members and their lawyers, who have called the slaying a murder and pressed for charges in the case.

Gualtieri said that during a meeting last week leaders from each group conveyed concerns from the community about the status of the investigation. They were planning to discuss those concerns together Tuesday.

Instead, Gualtieri addressed members of the news media alone, at times expressing frustration that the case “has gotten twisted around in so many ways.” The fact that it’s being interpreted so differently, he said, underscores why he didn’t arrest Drejka, reminding reporters that he has seen evidence the public hasn’t.

“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,” he said. “That is not the situation here. The facts are not so clear.”

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© 2018 Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

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