Regular readers know that I often use defensive gun incidents involving civilians as teachable moments, helping all of us who carry firearms to learn from the misfortunes of others. Just such a case recently occurred in my home state of Florida.
According to ABC News, Michael Dunn, who happens to be a Lakeland, Florida, city commissioner, “has been accused of fatally shooting 50-year-old Christobal Lopez at Dunn’s business, Vets Army & Navy Surplus store.” Dunn claimed the Oct. 3 incident “began when he suspected Lopez was trying to leave the store without paying for an item.”
The report further states that “Lopez, an agricultural laborer, entered the store with his father. As [Lopez’s] father was making a purchase, Dunn reportedly witnessed Lopez trying to steal a hatchet. Dunn stopped him and asked if he was going to pay for the item, then a confrontation ensued.”
CBS published surveillance video that shows Dunn grappling with Lopez as he tries to leave, then firing at Lopez, who is seen still holding a hatchet in his right hand. Video (shown in four segments — No. 4 is key) available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lakeland-florida-city-commissioner-michael-dunn-christobal-lopez-video-shows-shooting-accused-shoplifter-dead/
Dunn made a huge mistake: He talked openly to the police. And as often happens, he basically undermined his own defense. According to NBC, “Lakeland police said in an affidavit that Dunn did not indicate Lopez made any threatening statements and admitted to shooting Lopez twice. One shot hit Lopez in the left side of his body and the other in his back, police said.” Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene.
Dunn reportedly then tried to claim that he was in fear of harm, which, given that Lopez was holding a hatchet, could potentially be seen by a jury as credible. But when he was asked by police what would have happened if he had just let go of Lopez, Dunn replied, “It might be fair to say that if I just stepped back and let somebody come in and take what they want, that there would be no issue.”
State Attorney Brian Haas could have filed charges himself; however, he sent this case to a grand jury. This often happens when the defendant is a public official or a police officer and/or the case has other controversial elements. In any event, late last week the grand jury came back with an indictment for second-degree murder. If convicted, Dunn faces up to life in prison.
As with most defensive shootings, the details of this case will take some time to uncover. But regardless of the merits of this particular case, just remember that after any defensive gun use, you should never talk to police without your attorney, especially if there has been a fatal outcome.
Remember, nothing you say is going to help you, and more than likely it will hurt you. As hard as it will be, keep your mouth shut! Let your attorney do his or her job, which you will only make that much more difficult if, by the time your attorney arrives, you have already made potentially incriminating statements.
As a side note, many media pundits tried desperately to make this case about Florida’s “stand your ground” law, even though it likely wouldn’t apply, and the defendant has made no claim under the law. No matter, the media will doubtless continue their assault on SYG.