Jack Davis, the teen who fatally shot an unarmed WaveRunner thief in the waters next to his Miami Shores home, won’t face criminal charges under Florida’s self-defense law.
The lethal shotgun blast, prosecutors said Tuesday, was the tragic culmination of a series of facts that when woven together, instilled a sickening fear in the 14-year-old student.
Months earlier, the Davis family has been terrorized by gun-toting thugs in the home’s driveway. The “strange man” who suddenly appeared on the family’s waterfront property that May 2011 afternoon wielded a dark object that appeared to be a weapon.
And most alarming to Yasmin Davis and her son, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, the man repeatedly refused to acknowledge their panicked warnings as he reached for the object as he straddled the WaveRunner.
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The “weapon” was actually a black box key-type device used by Reynaldo Muñoz to start the engine of the stolen vessel, prosecutors said. And Muñoz didn’t respond to commands because, unbeknownst to the family, he was a deaf mute.
“It can be found that the ‘appearance’ of danger was so real that a reasonably prudent and cautious person would have believed the danger could only have been avoided through the use of deadly force,” prosecutor Kathleen Hoague wrote in a final memo released Tuesday.
The State Attorney’s Office, however, did not outright deem the shooting “justified” under Florida’s self-defense law. Instead, prosecutors simply said they could not “prove beyond a reasonable” doubt that Jack Davis — or his mother, who instructed him to shoot — was not justified in using deadly force.
They had considered possible charges of manslaughter or murder.
The case was seen as a key test of Florida’s controversial 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using lethal force to meet a deadly threat. The law also gave judges greater leeway to grant “immunity” from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to someone found to have used self-defense.
The Stand Your Ground law is under national scrutiny in Sanford, where a neighborhood watchman is on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
Because Jack and his mother, Yasmin Davis, will not be charged, they will never appear before a criminal court judge. That sets up the possibility that a civil judge could one day hold a “Stand Your Ground” immunity hearing — the Muñoz family is currently suing the Davises for wrongful death.
“The Muñoz family is devastated by the state’s decision and they will continue to seek justice for their son,” said family lawyer Juan Lucas Alvarez. “We have filed a wrongful death suit against the Davis family and there is nothing in the state’s report that says we can’t proceed in civil court.”
The Davis’ attorney, Jeffrey Weiner, called the shooting a “horrible situation” for both sides but hailed the prosecutors’ decision.
“It is a complete vindication,” Weiner said. “It is very clear that the shooting was justified under these tragic circumstances.”
He said the State Attorney’s memo contained “very powerful language” that he believes will persuade a Miami-Dade civil court judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
The afternoon of the shooting, Muñoz and his girlfriend, Carolina Lopez, had driven to the Pelican Harbor Marina off the 79th Street Causeway between Miami and North Bay Village.
Their plan: steal a WaveRunner, to be sold for $2,000. Using Muñoz’s own WaveRunner, the two zoomed across Biscayne Bay to the Davis home
The home, on the 9200 block of Bayshore Drive, is owned by Jeffrey and Yasmin Davis, the teen’s parents. Jeffrey Davis, a prominent civil lawyer, was not home at the time.
Lopez dropped Muñoz off two homes away from the Davis house. Muñoz swam to the seawall. Attached to his life vest: a “remote kill switch key” that starts and stops all WaveRunners.
His girlfriend, who used a spare key to restart the first WaveRunner, zipped back across Biscayne Bay to wait for Muñoz at Pelican Harbor.
At the time, Yasmin Davis and her family had just finished lunch when she saw a “strange man” by the pool cabana door in the backyard.
“Yasmin walked out the rear kitchen door toward the stranger and asked him what he was doing. The stranger did not answer, but turned around and looked toward their Yamaha WaveRunner,” according to the memo.
She later told a Miami-Dade police detective that she noticed the “accomplice” on the WaveRunner and feared an “ambush.” Yasmin Davis said she began to “flashback” to when two armed men, the year before, had robbed her and her husband in the front driveway.
Using a cordless house phone, Yasmin Davis frantically called 911 while hollering at the man to no avail. She also yelled to Jack, who was in his bedroom, to grab the family’s gun.
Yasmin Davis told police that the man ignored her yelling. She worried that the kitchen door was ajar, that perhaps someone might dart inside. She thought the man said “gun” while holding a “black or very dark” weapon in his hand.
Muñoz, 20, of Hialeah, thrust the WaveRunner from its electric lift and into Biscayne Bay.
Jack Davis, meanwhile, grabbed the shotgun from underneath his father’s bed, raced outside to his mother’s side in the backyard. She cried out that the man had a gun.
In those last critical moments, Muñoz was atop the stolen WaveRunner, idling in the water. To Jack Davis, Muñoz looked hunched over, leaning into the machine’s center compartment. They made eye contact.
Jack “racked the [shotgun’s] slide so the strange man could hear it in hopes that the sound would be enough to scare him to leave. However, the man’s expression did not change and it didn’t scare him into leaving,” according to the memo.
As he idled, Muñoz appeared to rev the WaveRunner as though he were leaving. “Wait, wait, wait,” Yasmin Davis told her son.
But then the man “put his hand in the front compartment again as if he was trying to get something” and a made a sharp right turn to face Jack and Yasmin Davis, the memo said.
Yasmin ordered her son to shoot. Jack himself later told police he was “confused” and feared the man had seen his shotgun and was going to shoot at him.
The “strange man” slumped over the WaveRunner, then slipped into Biscayne Bay, a cloud of red billowing in the water.
The initial police investigation was complicated by several factors.
Yasmin Davis drew suspicion because she initially told the 911 operator that she was the one who fired. “That statement was a lie and Yasmin knew it,” the memo said. “Yasmin later explained that she said that because she felt responsible for [Jack’s] actions.”
Dizzy, his ears ringing and his lip split by the recoil of the shotgun, Jack Davis realized his mother was lying to try and protect him. So he went along.
Also, Miami-Dade detectives did not seize the WaveRunner itself — so they didn’t initially find the small black boxed-shaped key device that Muñoz left in the vessel. A WaveRunner mechanic later gave the “foreign” device to Jeffrey Davis, who turned it over to police.
The case was not an easy call for prosecutors.
Under Florida’s “Castle Doctrine,” a citizen can use deadly force against anyone who commits a “forcible felony” such as a burglary to their home. But legally, Muñoz might not have committed a burglary because he likely did not enter the Davis’ roofed “dwelling.”
And had there been a burglary, “it was completed at the time of the shooting” and Muñoz on the WaveRunner in the water was no longer a threat to commit a forcible felony, prosecutor Hoague wrote.
But under the so-called “Stand Your Ground” portion of Florida’s self-defense law, Jack Davis might have been justified because he truly believed Muñoz posed a lethal threat, prosecutors said.