By TERRY SPENCER and MIKE SCHNEIDER
A white Florida man who told detectives he had a “pet peeve” about illegal parking in handicapped spots was convicted late Friday of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man outside a convenience store.
Six jurors deliberated for six hours in Clearwater before convicting Michael Drejka for the July 19, 2018, death of Markeis McGlockton. Drejka, who could get 30 years, looked down after the verdict was read then wiped his brow with a blue handkerchief. The 49-year-old Drejka was ordered held without bond until his sentencing in October. He stared straight ahead as he was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.
Michael Drejka, who fatally shot an unarmed black man during a dispute over a handicapped parking space, told detectives he fired because he had been pushed to the ground and he feared the man was about to “finish” what he started, video played at his trial Thursday, August 22, 2019 shows. (Jim Damaske/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)
The verdict came about a half-hour after jurors sent out a note saying they were confused by the state’s self-defense law. Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone told them all he could do is reread it for them.
The lengthy statute generally says a shooting is justified if a reasonable person under those circumstances would believe they are in danger of death or great bodily harm. But it also says the shooter could not have instigated the altercation.
Members of McGlockton’s family wept as the verdict was read and hugged and shook hands with the prosecutors after court was adjourned.
“This conviction doesn’t bring our son back, but it does give us some sense of justice because far too often the criminal justice system fails us by allowing people who take the lives of unarmed Black people to walk free as though their lives meant nothing,” McGlockton’s mother, Monica Robinson, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that this conviction will be a brick in the road to changing the culture of racism here in Florida.”
Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy, one of Drejka’s attorneys, told reporters outside the courthouse that she respected the verdict, but her team would likely file an appeal. She expressed her condolences to the McGlockton family and said that while she was disappointed in the verdict, she was “happy they received the justice they were seeking.”
Drejka had confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, for parking in a handicapped space while McGlockton went inside a convenience store with his 5-year-old son. Security video recorded McGlockton leaving the store and shoving Drejka to the ground. Seconds later, Drejka pulled out a handgun and shot McGlockton, 28, as he backed away. McGlockton ran inside the store, where he collapsed and died in front of his son.
The video was played multiple times for the jury of five men and a woman.
Drejka didn’t testify on his behalf, although jurors were played a video of his interview with detectives. Drejka had a concealed weapons permit for 25 years and told detectives he “always” carried his gun.
Drejka told the detectives he has a “pet peeve” about illegal parking in handicapped spots and often walks around such cars looking for handicapped stickers and placards, sometimes taking photographs. He said he often sees people illegally parked in the handicapped spot at that convenience store, but the owner doesn’t do anything about it.
Drejka said he saw McGlockton’s car in the handicapped spot in July 2018, so he went to its back and front, looking for stickers, which store security video shows. He said the car’s windows were tinted, so he didn’t know anyone was inside.
Jacobs, who was sitting with the couple’s two younger children, partially put down her window and asked what he was doing. He said he told her it was “not very polite” to park in the spot and “she took that as an affront.” He said that sparked an argument that got heated, with Jacobs saying “Do I have to get my man?”
Jacobs testified that Drejka had started pointing and yelling at her. She said she cracked the window to hear what he was saying and a screaming match ensued.
Prosecutor Scott Rosenwasser said during closing arguments earlier Friday that Drejka provoked McGlockton to shove him by yelling at Jacobs instead of calling the police if he felt so strongly about her being parked in the handicapped spot. Testimony showed he had confronted a septic truck driver for parking in the same spot months earlier, leading to an argument.
“He is a parking lot vigilante,” Rosenwasser said.
Defense attorney John Trevena told the jurors such comments are ridiculous. Drejka retired in his 30s from his tree-trimming job because of health problems.
“Does he look like Charles Bronson in ‘Death Wish’?” he asked, referring to the 1974 action movie. “This isn’t a vigilante.”
Drejka, the son of a police officer, had no record before the shooting.
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Schneider from Orlando, Florida.