FL: Lakeland Shooting Video Released, Reasonable Belief of Deadly Threat?

FL: Lakeland Shooting Video released, Reasonble Belief of Deadly Threat?
FL: Lakeland Shooting Video released, Reasonable Belief of Deadly Threat?

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- On 3 October 2018, Michael Dunn shot and killed Christobal Lopez, during a struggle where Lopez was attempting to steal a hatchet from Dunn's Vets Army Navy Surplus store. The store is located in Lakeland, Florida.

Dunn, 47, was attempting to stop Lopez, 50, from leaving the store while he was holding the hatchet he was stealing. Surveillance video from inside the store showing the last part of the struggle, which ended in a fatal shooting. From tampabay.com:

Still pointing the gun at Lopez, Dunn tries to grab Lopez’s shoulder from behind with his left hand as Lopez makes it out the door, the video shows. Dunn’s hand slips off Lopez’s shoulder but Dunn is able to grab a fistful of the man’s t-shirt. Lopez raises his left arm in an apparent attempt to break free, and then Dunn appears to fire.

Lopez falls to the pavement just outside the door. He appears to shake for a moment, then lies still as Dunn keeps the gun trained on him.

At the moment Dunn fires, Lopez is holding the door with his right hand and appears to be holding an object in that same hand. It’s unclear if the object is the hatchet that Lopez is suspected of trying to steal when he was shot.

The standard for justifiable self-defense, in Florida, is that the defender may use deadly force if the defender reasonably believes it to be necessary to prevent imminent death or severe bodily injury. From Florida statutes 776.12:

(2) A person is justified in using or threatening 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.

Shoplifting is not defined as a forcible felony.

Note the standard in the statute is subjective, based on what the defender knew and reasonably believed at the time.

You can see the hatchet that was being stolen in the frame from the video below.

If you watch the video frame by frame, it is clear the hatchet came from Lopez's hand and was not placed there afterward.

On 3 October, 2018, Michael Dunn shot and killed Christobal Lopez, during a struggle where Lopez was attempting to steal a hatchet from Dunn's Vets Army Navy Surplus store.
On 3 October 2018, Michael Dunn shot and killed Christobal Lopez, during a struggle where Lopez was attempting to steal a hatchet from Dunn's Vets Army Navy Surplus store.

Under Florida law, a person is not justified in pointing a firearm at another person unless they are in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

The defense, in this case, may be that the store owner, Michael Dunn, had a reasonable fear for his life when confronting Christobal Lopez, who was armed with a deadly weapon, the hatchet, which he was stealing from the store.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems reasonable to me to have a firearm pointed at a person who is armed with a deadly weapon, who is stealing from your store.

Michael Dunn was taking a considerable risk in attempting to stop Christobal Lopez from leaving the store with the stolen hatchet. If store owners simply allow thieves to steal without consequences, they may be forced out of business.

People will ask if a hatchet is worth a man's life. That question could be asked of both thieves and store owners.

Others may ask if a man's livelihood is worth defending.


About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30-year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 21 thoughts on “FL: Lakeland Shooting Video Released, Reasonable Belief of Deadly Threat?

    1. Meanwhile the owner of the store can not work in his own store because he sells firearms and if convicted he will become a felon and unable to sell or carry a firearm. The store owner was active politically and sat on the city council. He has since resigned. Much of the video shown locally on TV and shots in papers do not point out the hatchet, and seem to indict the man for shooting “unarmed” shoplifter.

    2. I saw on the news today that the prosecutor filed charges against the store owner, Mr. Dunn, so it appears he is in deep doo doo. It sure doesn’t sound fair but Fla. is really mixed up on gun rules because of the lillie leftists that have invaded them.

    3. it will all come down to the people on the jury,if enough of them are sick of this kind of shit,he’ll walk. one things for sure,this prick won’t be doing this anymore.

    4. Ese tipo robo un hacha que es un arma y pudo usarla contra el dueño de la tienda.. yo lo veo como defensa…
      That guy stole an ax that is a weapon and could use it against the owner of the store .. I see it as a defense.

    5. This statement is horribly incorrect: “Note the standard in the statute is subjective, based on what the defender knew and reasonably believed at the time.” The determination of justification is based on an objective (reasonableness of belief) standard.

      This statement is horribly incorrect: “Under Florida law, a person is not justified in pointing a firearm at another person unless they are in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.” Gunpointing in Florida is as a matter of law non-deadly force. Non-deadly force can be used to protect person or property without deadly force predicate as posited by the author. Also, “fear” is not what the law states.

      Whether or not a hatchet carried by someone fleeing, as in this scenario ,is a “deadly weapon” is well-above the author’s “pay grade.” See above commentary.

      The author states he is not a lawyer. Rather obvious.

      The formulation for analysis of this incident is whether a shopkeeper can use non-deadly force to stop shoplifting, and when does shoplifting become a robbery (which is a forcible felony, whether armed or not), or when in lawful use of non-deadly force to protect property is the commission of a forcible felony imminent.

      1. Florida law on citizen’s arrest is primary in this case. The thief was not attacking but it was a lawful citizen’s arrest and threatening to use force and actually using force was legal.

        1. And what exactly do you think the Florida law on “citizen’s arrest” is? Anybody can “arrest” another person for shoplifting? His attorney didn’t mention that when he gave a statement to the press. Maybe because either there’s no such thing, or that is not what occurred?

          1. Florida laws were written by lawyers with the goal of requiring a lawyer to understand. Florida citizen’s arrest law is nor straight forward but is included among farm theft.
            But a merchant is allowed to make a citizen’s arrest by 812.015 .
            No doubt the public defender does not know the law and the merchant doesn’t know how to guide his lawyer.

            1. The statute you referenced, 812.015 is not one for the making of what is referred to as a “citizen’s arrest.” It is a special provision allowing a merchant to detain someone. In any event, however, this particular incident does not evidence a retail theft detention or arrest. And if it is not a technical arrest, then the level of force allowed to make and secure an “arrest” do not apply.

    6. what may screw the store owner is, the guy was leaving the store and wasn’t a threat at that point.. he didn’t become a threat until the store owner grabbed him and tried to stop him from leaving with the stolen merchandise … so they will say the owner initiated the confrontation… he better get a good lawyer !!!

      1. Yes, if the thief was leaving the store, he’s no longer a threat and deadly force shouldn’t have been employed. I wasn’t there but seems like he wasn’t a threat. Personally, I wouldn’t have fired at a fleeing thief.

        1. Many seem to be missing the fact that the store owner was making a lawful citizen’s arrest. The thief was armed with a lethal weapon.
          It was not a matte of shooting at a fleeing shoplifter, it was lawful citizen’s arrest and at that point use of force to defend life from a thief resisting a lawful arrest.
          A lawyer isn’t a bad idea. Security training and perhaps a TASER might have been useful but not legally required.

      2. @mc, just because the thief had his back to the victim temporarily does not mean that the thief was not a deadly threat. The thief turned around proving that he is capable of turning around, again.
        The thief was armed with a device that could cause death or great bodily injury.
        The thief chose his form of deadly weapon, the victim store owner was free to respond with his chosen form of deadly force.

    7. IMO, The crux of this case lies in if the perp was ARMED at the time of the shooting (which he was) you marry this with the store owner feeling IN FEAR FOR HIS LIFE and you have a open and shut case of self-defense.. The argument that the perp was not swinging the axe or using it in a threatening way is asinine IMO….we cannot determine INTENT or what the perp was thinking from a short video clip!

      Put yourself in the store owners shoes: A Man with an axe is trying to steal from you, you have to ACT NOW or risk going to the hospital or morgue.

      Better to be Judged by 12 than carried by 6 ANY day of the week.

    8. In Kansas and probably Florida, any person observing a crime may make a citizens arrest. The store owner was attempting to make a citizens’ arrest of a man armed with a deadly weapon which he had just stolen. The shooting was because the weapon was a threat to the life of the store owner who has a right to make a citizens’ arrest. The threat of deadly force is lawful in Kansas and probably also in Florida.
      When the axe/hatchet appeared to be used as seen by the store owner the use of deadly force was justified.
      IANAL or a Florida resident so there might be nuances in Florida law different from Kansas law.
      21-5221. Use of force; definitions. [Amends K.S.A. 2010 Supp. § 21-3221]
      (a) As used in article 32 of chapter 21 of the Kansas Statutes Annotated, and amendments
      thereto:
      (1) “Use of force” means any or all of the following directed at or upon another person or
      thing:
      (A) Words or actions that reasonably convey the threat of force, including threats to
      cause death or great bodily harm to a person;
      (B) the presentation or display of the means of force; or
      (C) the application of physical force, including by a weapon or through the actions of
      another.
      (2) “Use of deadly force” means the application of any physical force described in
      paragraph (1) which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to a person. Any threat to cause
      death or great bodily harm, including, but not limited to, by the display or production of a
      weapon, shall not constitute use of deadly force, so long as the actor’s purpose is limited to
      creating an apprehension that the actor will, if necessary, use deadly force in defense of such
      actor or another or to affect a lawful arrest.
      (b) An actor who threatens deadly force as described in subsection (a)(1) shall be subject
      to the determination in subsection (a) of K.S.A. 21- 5222, and amendments thereto, and not to
      the determination in subsection (b) of K.S.A. 21-5222, and amendments thereto.
      History: L. 2010, ch. 124, § 1; April 29. KANSAS STATUTE

      1. Kansas probably is not Florida. In fact, Kansas law not like Florida law. Moreover, in either state, guy was not making a “citizens arrest.”

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