Florida‘s judicial system is set to experience its second high profile case this year in which a person accused in a homicide may invoke the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense statute.
In an incident that took place Nov. 23, Jacksonville sheriffs say Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old from Satellite Beach, Fla., pulled into a gas station parking lot where Jordan Davis, 17, and three friends were sitting in an SUV Friday evening. Dunn made a comment about the loud music blaring from the vehicle and told them to turn it down. An argument ensued between Dunn, who is white, and Davis, who is black, after which Dunn allegedly pulled out a gun and began firing into the vehicle. Davis was fatally wounded. “Nobody else in the vehicle was struck, just our victim,” said Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Homicide Lt. Rob Schoonover at a press conference. “Which was lucky because the vehicle was shot, I believe, eight or nine times.”
Dunn was in the Jacksonville area to attend his son’s wedding. He was on the way back to his hotel when he pulled into the gas station and encountered Davis and his friends. His girlfriend was in the gas station’s convenience store during the shooting and the two jumped into his car and fled the scene afterward. Dunn did not realize he had hit any of the passengers, but upon seeing the news report of the shooting death at their hotel, they left for his residence in Brevard County, Schoonover said.
Eyewitnesses gave police the car’s license plate number, which they used to track the suspect down and arrest him at his home the following morning. Schoonover said Dunn was reportedly in the process of turning himself in to a neighbor who works in law enforcement. He was taken into custody on charges of second degree murder, to which he pleaded not guilty in a Duval County court.
When police interviewed Dunn, he told them he felt threatened. Schoonover said it is unclear if he had a concealed weapons permit but said he has owned the gun for a long time and was a gun collector. Dunn’s attorney Robin Lemonidis has said that his client was licensed to carry the gun. The other occupants of the SUV have reportedly admitted that their music was loud, but say there was no threat to Dunn.
Lemonidis told reporters that Dunn politely asked the teens to turn down their music and after that they exchanged words, then the threats came. “And that’s when the guy in the back seat raised the barrel of a shotgun over the rim of the window,” Lemonidis told Jacksonville television station WTEV. “That’s when he just snapped into self protection mode.”
Her client, she says, reached into his glove compartment for a firearm, loaded it and fired. She said he then left the scene of the shooting because he was scared the teens would call their friends to come after him. She said he chose to turn himself in to a trusted neighbor rather than do it in a strange city.
Jacksonville sheriffs did not find any weapons or drugs in or near the vehicle. “We will have our day in court where the evidence will come out,” she said.
Dunn’s self defense claim may fall under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute in which a person who feels that his or her life is being threatened is under no obligation to retreat. Davis’ death bears similarities to the case in which Miami teen Trayvon Martin, also 17, was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman — and with similar racial overtones. Zimmerman, who faces second degree murder charges in the incident, also says he acted in self defense. Lemonidas, while steadfast in her assertions that her client was simply defending himself, has not yet said what her legal strategy will be.
After his arrest and extradition from Brevard County, Dunn remains held in the Duval County jail without bond. He is awaiting an arraignment hearing set for Dec. 19.