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A Florida city official who fatally shot a homeless man in an altercation caught on surveillance footage has been charged with murder after prosecutors rejected a self-defense claim under the state's “Stand Your Ground” Law, according to court documents.
Michael Dunn, the city commissioner for Lakeland, Florida, had no reason to fear for his life when he pumped two shots into Cristobal Lopez, 50, as Lopez tried to leave Dunn’s army-navy store with a stolen hatchet, prosecutors said Friday.
“Let me be clear: It is the policy of my office to comply with and abide by the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law,” 10th Circuit State Attorney Brian Haas said in a press conference. “However, I have determined that the facts of this case, and the actions of Mr. Dunn, fall outside of the protection that Stand Your Ground provides.”
Dunn, who started his post as city commissioner in January, was charged Friday with second-degree murder, and is currently being held at Polk County Jail without bail, according to online jail records.
Lopez and his father were homeless, but had recently been accepted into a residency program at a nearby charity and had moved into a Lakeland shelter less than two weeks before the shooting, according to court documents filed by the Lakeland Police Department.
The shooting, which was captured on the store’s surveillance footage, took place October 3, when Lopez and his father stopped in at Dunn’s Vets Army & Navy Surplus store in Lakeland, police said.
While Lopez’s father browsed, the younger Lopez was seen on surveillance footage slipping a hatchet into his pant leg, according to an affidavit.
After the elder Lopez made a purchase, buying a Boonies hat at the front counter, Dunn confronted the younger man about the hatchet, at which point the hatchet fell out of Lopez’s pants, prompting Lopez to promise not to walk out with the item, police said.
“I will pay, I will pay!” Lopez told Dunn, pausing briefly in front of the counter, according to court documents.
Instead of paying, however, Lopez grabbed the hatchet from the floor, holding it by the blade, and made to leave the store, police said.
Positioning himself in front of the door, Dunn drew a handgun from his waistband and, holding the gun at a “low ready” position, shoved Lopez back into the store and grabbed him by the shirt as Lopez tried to push past him with his right hand, holding the hatchet in his left, according to police.
The video showed a brief struggle as Lopez tried to leave the store, all the while holding the hatchet blade in his palm and pushing the door with his left, when Dunn suddenly lost his grip on Lopez’s shirt, raised the gun, and fired two shots into his torso.
Lopez can be seen falling to the ground and briefly shaking, before going still and lying face down.
Dunn then took a step over the dying man and appeared to gaze at him for several moments before stepping out of the frame.
When cops arrived on the scene, Dunn — who at no point provided aid to the man he’s accused of shooting moments earlier — told responding officers that Lopez was dead, according to an affidavit.
“I think he expired,” Dunn said, according to court documents.
Witnesses told police that at no point during the altercation did Lopez threaten to hurt Dunn, and the store owner himself acknowledged that the incident could have ended without bloodshed, police said.
“It might be fair to say that if I just stepped back and let somebody come in and take what they want, then there would be no issue,” Dunn told cops, according to an affidavit.
A lawyer for Dunn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
[Polk County Sheriff's Office]
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