Lakeland, Fla. (970 WFLA) – While prosecutors in Lakeland announced on Friday that now former City Commissioner Michael Dunn was being charged with second degree murder in the deadly shooting of a suspected shoplifter at an Army-Navy surplus that he partly owns, new details are emerging about the final moments before and after 50-year-old Christobal Lopez was shot and killed.
While surveillance video of the shooting went viral in the days before Dunn was booked into the Polk County Jail, even bringing Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law back into the spotlight, a Lakeland Police Department probable cause affidavit reveals that two other witnesses did not hear Lopez threatening Dunn before he was shot twice in the doorway of the store.
His father was also inside the Vets Army Navy Surplus store when Lopez was killed.
TIMELINE: SHOPLIFTING TO MURDER
For Lakeland Police, the case against Commissioner Dunn began just after 2:30pm on October 3rd. That’s when an officer responded to a call for a shoplifter who had been reportedly shot at the surplus store on Florida Avenue North. According to the affidavit, the officer saw Dunn standing over Lopez with his gun still pointed at Lopez.
Dunn reportedly tells the officer “I think he expired!”
Lopez in fact died at the scene according to police.
The investigation then shifted to what lead up to Lopez being shot and the surveillance video recorded by several cameras throughout the store.
First, Lopez is seen taking a hatchet and placing it inside his pants while his shirt was untucked. According to the report, Dunn saw what was going on from his office and is seen on video putting a gun in his own waistband before going out to the front of the store.
Meanwhile, Lopez’ father is seen on video a few moments later buying a cap at the counter before the two of them started to leave. That’s when police say Lopez was stopped by Dunn and asked about not paying for the hatchet, just before it fell down his pants leg onto the floor.
Another witness, Patrick Arndt, reportedly told detectives that he then heard Lopez saying “I will pay, I will pay!” before walking over to the cash register. However, he did not.
Instead, as the video shows, Lopez starts for the door with the hatchet in hand when Dunn pushes Lopez, then points his gun at him as Lopez tries to leave. Dunn is then seen grabbing Lopez’ shirt from the left as Lopez was holding on to the blade of the hatchet as detailed by police in the affidavit.
Dunn fires twice after losing his grip on Lopez’ shirt.
The first shot hits Lopez in the left side of his torso while the second hist in the middle of Lopez’ back, according to police.
Both Arndt, and another witness, David Duncan, reportedly told investigators that Lopez did not say anything threatening to Dunn before being shot.
A LEGITIMATE “FEAR” FOR “STAND YOUR GROUND?”
While detectives reviewed the surveillance video from the store, Dunn was also willing to speak with them about why he shot Lopez after being advised of his Miranda warnings, including the right to remain silent.
According to the affidavit, Dunn admits shooting Lopez for taking the hatchet and that he was in fear. When pressed on that issue and what would have happened if he simply let Lopez go, Dunn responds with the following, “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!”
While the detective notes in the affidavit that Dunn shot Lopez “without lawful justification," it also shows that police initially planned on charging Dunn with manslaughter. That’s before State Attorney Brian Haas says he decided to take the case to a grand jury – something that is not required in order for prosecutors to charge someone with second degree murder in Florida.
Shortly after announcing Dunn’s indictment during a news conference, according to the Tampa Bay Times, Haas says that he wasn’t sure if Lopez’ killing was premeditated but was not a case of self-defense. Under Florida law, a grand jury indictment is required to bring a charge of premeditated first degree murder. Prosecutors have full authority to file an “information,” or charging document for second-degree murder.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While questions immediately began to surface as to whether Dunn would even face charges at all because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the main legal question facing Dunn’s defense team and ultimately prosecutors is whether he can raise a prima facie claim that he was in fear of death or great bodily harm.
While part of the larger legal umbrella of Florida’s self-defense arguments that fall under “Justifiable Use of Deadly Force,” the “Stand Your Ground” statute allows someone charged with a crime who believes they were justified in the use of deadly force or non-deadly force to have a judge decide whether the case should be dismissed before trial.
In 2017, filing what’s called an “immunity” motion and then having the case dismissed became easier for the accused, since the burden of proving that person was not justified in, for example, shooting someone, shifted to prosecutors. Lawamakers also raised that standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” essentially one level below the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used to convict someone at trial.
Dunn and his defense team could try to file such a motion and go to hearing, or they could simply claim self-defense at trial or both.