In yet another incident that has reignited controversy over the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, police in Florida have released surveillance footage that appears to show a local official fatally shooting a man at nearly point-blank range as he tries to flee from a store
Cristobal Lopez, 50, and his father on Oct. 3 arrived at the Vets Army & Navy Surplus store, owned by Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn, a little after 2:30 p.m., according to police. Lopez’s father was reportedly making a purchase when Dunn claimed he caught Lopez shoplifting a hatchet and tucking it into his jacket.
As the pair went to leave, Dunn confronted the younger Lopez, asking him if he planned to pay for the item, police said. A scuffle ensued, and as Lopez tried to exit the store, Dunn drew a semiautomatic handgun and gunned down Lopez, police said.
Emergency personnel responding to the shop attempted to revive Lopez, but he was declared dead at the scene, according to a statement from the Lakeland Police Department.
Police interviewed the victim’s father, Dunn and two store employees at the time of the shooting, and while charges were not immediately filed, officials said an investigation is ongoing.
Jake Orr, an assistant state attorney for Polk County, said he hopes to have more information about possible charges by the end of the week, but declined to comment further.
“There’s not much I can tell you other than the investigation is ongoing,” Orr told Oxygen.com.
Video of the incident shows multiple angles inside the store leading up to the shooting, but it is difficult to tell from the grainy footage inside the store what led to the confrontation.
A clearer picture can be gleaned from the camera focused on the doorway, which shows in graphic detail as Lopez tried to get out the door and the man police identified as Dunn grabbed him by his white T-shirt and fired at least one round into his torso from about a foot away.
During the confrontation, Lopez had an object in his right hand, but it is unclear if it was the hatchet he’s accused of trying to steal.
Lopez then collapsed onto the pavement, while Dunn stood in the doorway, gun still pointed at Lopez, and appeared to stare down at him for about one minute, before stepping over the mortally wounded man and walking outside. As blood began to pool beneath Lopez, the door remained propped open by his motionless leg.
Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” self-defense law allows a person to use deadly force "if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony."
It does not require the person to retreat before using deadly force.
Orr also declined comment specifically about whether the state’s “stand your ground” law was a factor in the investigation.
“I think you can surmise that all potential criminal statutes and defenses can apply,” he said.
Bill Loughery, a former prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, said the case could be a tough sell for self-defense.
“Just from the video it doesn’t look like Mr. Dunn was in fear and wasn’t justified in shooting Mr. Lopez as he was leaving," he said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "It appeared that, because he had his gun, Mr. Dunn was in charge of the situation from the standpoint he was directing Mr. Lopez what to do."
Another former prosecutor, Robert Heyman, told the paper that the case was a “tough call” if the object in Lopez’s hand was indeed the allegedly stolen hatchet.
"There’s an argument that as the door’s opening, the guy could have taken a swipe at the store owner with a hatchet in order to escape," Heyman said.
A lawyer for Dunn did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and an employee of the store declined to comment Tuesday morning.
[Photo Credit: Lakeland Police Department]
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxgen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.