A white Florida man who told detectives he was irritated by people who illegally park in handicapped spots was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison for manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man outside a convenience store. Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone called 49-year-old Michael Drejka a "wanna-be" law enforcement officer and a self-appointed "handicapped parking space monitor."
Jurorsof manslaughter in August. Drejka showed no emotion when the judge sentenced him.
Drejka confronted Markeis McGlockton's girlfriend Britany Jacobs in July 2018 for parking in a handicapped space at a Clearwater convenience store. McGlockton had gone inside the store with his 5-year-old son to buy drinks. As the confrontation continued, a customer went into the store and alerted McGlockton.
Security video shows McGlockton leaving the store and shoving Drejka to the ground. Seconds later, Drejka pulls out a handgun and shoots the 28-year-old McGlockton. Drejka told investigators McGlockton was coming towards him and he fired in self-defense. The video, however, shows McGlockton appearing to step back and turn away as Drejka fires the shot, which strikes McGlockton in the side.
Initially, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he wouldn't arrest Drejka because he said the case may fall under the state's controversial 'stand your ground' law. Some called into question Gualtieri's interpretation of the statute, which allows someone to use deadly force if they believe it necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm and removes the duty to retreat. Drejka was later charged with manslaughter.
Drejka could have chosen to ask a judge to decide whether he was immune from prosecution under the "stand your ground" law, but he opted instead to go to trial on the manslaughter charge.
McGlockton's family hired a lawyer and held a news conference demanding justice, while U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. Authorities later decided to charge Drejka.
The judge said he found it most ironic that Drejka drove up, illegally parked next to Jacobs' car and then confronted her about parking illegally in a handicapped space.
"He just seems to come out of nowhere, kind of like a superhero, to see that he enforces the handicapped parking spot," Bulone said.
Jacobs, along with McGlockton's parents, spoke before the sentencing.
"There are no words to fully describe what his loss has done to our family," said Jacobs, who had four children with McGlockton. "Our youngest two children will never have memories of their daddy."
Defense attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy read a letter from Drejka's wife in which she defended her husband, saying he was not a bad person. She also wrote that she and other family and friends had received threats and decided to stay away from the courtroom.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a statement the sentence brings some closure and a measure of justice for McGlockton's family.
"Michael Drejka tried to hide behind a stand your ground defense, and will now have to pay the penalty for extinguishing an innocent life," the statement said. "This sentence is an affirmation that Markeis's life mattered and the justice system will hold his killer accountable."
Crump told reporters that the sentence is precedent-setting "because it shows equal justice under the law is possible in America for black and brown people too."
Crump said it reversed the precedent set in 2013 when a jury in Sanford, Florida acquitted former neighborhood watch volunteer in the killing of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin. Like Drejka, Zimmerman claimed self-defense but chose to go to trial rather than asking a judge for an immunity determination under "Stand your Ground." The jury who acquitted him was instructed on the controversial statute, however.