|I don't see how this passes SYG muster, but maybe I'm missing something:|
Posted by: TEEBONE ® |
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'Stand your ground': Boynton brawl leads to gunshot, but no charges
A fistfight between neighboring businesses leads to Charles Cook III punching a man, who in turn shot him. But no arrests were made.
On an afternoon in October, as he lay outside his father’s Boynton Beach towing company gasping for air, Charles Cook III told his family he was going to die.
“They were like ‘no you’ll be OK, you were just shot in the arm’ but I could feel it in my chest,” he said. “I kept saying ‘I can’t breathe’ and then it all went black.”
Moments earlier, Cook III, his father and at least two other employees of Big City Towing had been in a bare-knuckled brawl with workers from a nearby tool company — the results of boiled-over tensions about the use of an alley that separates the two businesses in an industrial area along Railroad Avenue.
In the melee, Cook III punched the other business owner, David Taylor, who was holding a gun. Taylor shot him.
The 25-year-old woke up in the hospital thinking his shooter would be arrested, but that never happened.
Instead, both Boynton Beach police and Palm Beach County prosecutors deemed the case one of self-defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, even though neither Cook nor anyone on his side in the fight were armed.
“It was a fistfight,” Cook’s wife, Abby, said, adding that her husband has a concealed weapons permit but intentionally left his gun behind after he saw his father surrounded and went to help. “What the police and the state attorneys are saying by not charging him is that anytime a person gets punched, they get to shoot someone.”
Boynton Beach police say the case is closed. When police do not file charges, prosecutors don’t have to review the case. In this instance, they did.
“No wiggle room — self-defense and stand your ground,” Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos told Cook’s family attorney, John Cleary, in a Nov. 30 email.
Experts who viewed surveillance video of the fight and shooting, however, said the case isn’t that simple.
A fight over a blocked alley
The Cooks say the shooting came after months of minor arguments between people from the two businesses. Cook and his father, Charles Cook Jr., say Taylor and his employees at Taylor Pneumatic Tools often block the alley with moving trucks, making it impossible for them to load and unload cars from their tow yard, Big City Towing.
On Oct. 10, another Big City Towing employee was trying to unload a car when he said a Penske rental truck linked to Taylor’s business blocked the alley.
Cook Jr. said he went into the alley to ask Taylor and his employees to move the truck for a few minutes so that they could move the car.
The Cooks said Taylor refused to move until his workers were done.
“He was just rude about it,” Cook Jr. said. “He was like, ‘the longer we sit here talking the longer we’re gonna take.’”
The elder Cook said as he and employees from Taylor’s business began to argue, Taylor threatened to shoot them.
In the surveillance video, which has no sound, Cook Jr. and Taylor argue as about a half-dozen employees from both businesses rotate in and out of the scene.
The dispute appears to escalate, and Cook Jr. takes off his shirt.
The exchange of words continues and escalates into a fight, with men on both sides pushing, shoving and punching one another.
As the melee quiets down, Cook III faces off with Taylor, who is holding a gun at his side. The younger cook suddenly punches Taylor, sending him staggering into a tree.
Taylor shoots him.
Father said neighbor threatened to shoot him
According to Cook III, he took a swing at Taylor out of fear when he saw Taylor had a gun. He said Taylor was threatening to shoot him so he thought the punch would create some distance between them so he could get away.
Cook Jr. said that before they came to blows, Taylor threatened to “put two hot ones” in him, referring to bullets.
The Cooks say Taylor was “waving around” his gun throughout the fight. The video shows Taylor during at least one point in the fight raise his hand holding the gun and point it at someone.
Taylor, who was treated for injuries to his face after the fight, initially told police he would talk to them but wanted to consult with a lawyer first.
A detective called Taylor’s attorney, Richard Lubin, on Dec. 5, police said.
“At this time Lubin relayed that his client would would not be giving a statement to BBPD regarding this incident,” Boynton Beach Det. Peter Zampini said in his report.
Cleary, the Cooks’ attorney, said that not only was Taylor a mutual combatant in the fight, but he was the one who started it.
He also wondered in his letter to Kridos how Taylor was authorized to use deadly force to stop what Cleary said was a simple misdemeanor battery — far short of the standard for self-defense.
“His shooting was not designed to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another nor was anyone in the commission of a forcible felony,” Cleary said, later adding: “We believe that Taylor cannot legally claim the stand your ground protections and that there is probable cause for his arrest for aggravated battery with a firearm.”
Boynton Beach police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater referred all questions about the case last week to the state attorney’s office.
Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Edmondson said he was aware of the case but declined to address the specifics.
“I can say just speaking in general that we have definitely seen an increase in the number of cases where people are claiming stand your ground or self-defense, and law enforcement agencies in some of these instances are deciding they don’t have enough for an arrest,” Edmondson said.
Was shooting proportional to punch?
Andrew Branca, a Colorado attorney who is one of the nation’s preeminent experts on self-defense laws, reviewed reports and 911 calls and said he could make an argument for or against charges in Taylor’s case.
A successful argument for a classic case of self-defense requires five essential elements, according to Branca — innocence, imminence, proportionality, avoidance and reasonableness.
Under “stand your ground,” Florida and nearly three dozen other states dropped “avoidance” — or duty to retreat — as a requirement for self-defense.
Even so, Branca said, he had a hard time believing that Taylor’s shooting of Cook III would meet a different self-defense requirement: that the force used was proportional to the threat.
Police and prosecutors, Branca said, likely decided that if they charged Taylor, the case would not survive a self-defense immunity hearing, which is a pre-trial hearing in Florida cases sometimes referred to as a “stand your ground” hearing. In it, prosecutors must convince a judge that there is clear and convincing evidence that a defendant was not acting in self-defense.
Judges across Florida have thrown out cases against defendants and deemed them immune from prosecution when they have determined that prosecutors failed to meet that standard.
“If you’re the police and prosecutors, and you know you’re going to have to jump through all these hurdles to get a conviction and your perception is that you won’t be able to clear at least one of these hoops, then even in cases where they may have probable cause they could figure it’s not worth making an arrest,” Branca said.
As a result of the gunshot wound, which hit his arm, entered his chest through his ribs and lodged in his back, Cook III spent two weeks in intensive care for a collapsed lung, his family said. The Cooks say they are consulting with a civil attorney.
LIBERTY HAS NO EXPIRATION DATEDemocrats wouldn't buy a clue if it was government subsidized.
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