A former city commissioner in Lakeland, Florida, was sentenced Monday to three years in prison after admitting to fatally shooting a man he suspected stole an ax from his shop in 2018.
The former commissioner, Michael Dunn, 51, pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter with a firearm in March, according to Polk County court records. In addition to the jail term, Polk County Judge Donald G. Jacobsen sentenced Mr. Dunn to 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
In October 2018, Mr. Dunn was working at the Army and Navy surplus store he co-owned in Lakeland, about 55 miles east of Tampa, when he saw the man, Christobal Lopez, 50, hiding an ax, police said. Lakeland. Department said at the time.
Mr Dunn stopped Mr Lopez, a passer-by who had entered the store with his father, and asked him to pay for the item, police said. When Mr. Lopez tried to leave the store, Mr. Dunn tugged on Mr. Lopez’s sleeve and shot him.
Mr. Lopez died on the spot.
According to court records, Mr. Dunn downgraded from second-degree murder to manslaughter after taking the plea deal. He resigned from his position as elected city commissioner a few days after being indicted in 2018.
During a hearing on Monday, Mr Dunn told Judge Jacobsen that his reaction when he saw Mr Lopez pick up the ax “was based on fear” and that he was “almost on autopilot”. He also apologized to Mr. Lopez’s family.
“If I had a time machine, I’d like to have never seen Mr. Lopez before,” said Mr. Dunn.
Mark O’Mara, an attorney representing Mr. Dunn represents, said at the hearing that his client’s decision to shoot Mr. Lopez “wasn’t well thought out, but neither was it indicative of anger or hostility.”
In March 2021, Brian Haas, the District Attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit, dismissed Mr Dunn’s claim of self-defense. If Mr. Dunn’s claim had been upheld, he would have been protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, making it challenging to prosecute people who claim they felt threatened and acted to protect themselves.
Paul Wallace, an assistant state attorney, said at the hearing that prosecutors believed Mr Lopez was not trying to engage in a violent confrontation.
“The vast majority of retailers try not to use these types of interventions,” said Mr. Wallace.
During the hearing, prosecutors said Mr Dunn had confronted multiple shoplifters at his store, including someone he wrestled with who had a gun.
Prosecutors had asked Judge Jacobsen for a 17-and-a-half-year prison sentence, while Mr Dunn’s lawyers had asked for a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for ‘community control’, under which he could serve his sentence. at home instead of in prison.
Mr. Lopez’s aunt, who was identified as M. Rodriguez, testified at the hearing that Mr. Lopez’s father was never the same after the shooting.
“He talked because he had to talk, he walked because he had to walk, but we would see him and it wasn’t him,” she said.
When Mr. Dunn was 19, he accidentally shot a man while he was practicing his aim with a pistol in his home, according to The Lakeland Ledger, a local newspaper. The man survived, and the Lakeland Police inadvertently named the shooting and acquitted Mr Dunn of any wrongdoing.
In July 2018, Mr. Dunn staged a rally at his store to counter a nearby March for Our Lives rally, which called for action against gun violence after 17 people were shot and killed at a South Florida high school, according to The Tampa Bay Times.