Lakeland, Florida Commissioner Shoots Shoplifter: Justified or Not?

By Faye Higbee

Lakeland, Florida – A Lakeland City Commissioner fatally shot a shoplifter who was carrying a hatchet out of his store. It is unknown at this time whether charges will be filed.

Michael Dunn is the owner of Vets Army-Navy Surplus on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland. On October 3, he stopped a homeless felon, Cristobal Lopez just inside the door of his store. Lopez was carrying a hatchet that he had shoplifted. From the video, it appeared to still be in the sheath.

Dunn asked Lopez if he would pay for the hatchet, and a “confrontation” erupted.

Fox13 reported,

The State Attorney’s Office is now deciding whether to charge Dunn. The day after the shooting, the commissioner’s attorney told FOX 13 that Dunn was in fear for his life when he fired at Lopez.

“Michael had to do things under split seconds to protect himself, his business and his community,” Rusty Franklin said.

The silent video released Monday is from a surveillance camera near the door.  It shows Dunn, armed with a handgun, struggling to keep Lopez from leaving the store.  As Lopez brushes by him and heads out the door, Dunn grabs Lopez by the shirt.  

Lopez manages to pull free of Dunn’s grasp, turning back towards Dunn in the process.  That’s when Dunn fires the first shot, sending Lopez reeling backwards. The video shows Dunn almost immediately fire a second shot at the falling suspect.

There is no audio in the video, so what the suspect said to Dunn or vice versa is unknown. Although the media say they can’t see the object in Lopez’s hand, it is visible as Dunn struggles with Lopez.

Wisdom and the ability to judge whether a situation is life-threatening or not is the most important skill for any gun owner to have in a confrontational situation. We can’t tell what the suspect said to Mr. Dunn.

The Lakeland Police and State’s Attorney’s Office are investigating.

“Though citizens may have strong feelings about what is depicted, we ask you to remain patient as our department continues to work with the State Attorney’s Office to investigate.” Gary Gross, Lakeland Police Department spokesman

Warning: graphic