The Castle Doctrine has become a quaint image in South Florida the past few weeks as residents have taken to defending themselves in and out of their homes.
Since the week after Thanksgiving, South Florida residents have shot intruders they have perceived as threats at least four times. Only one of the shooting victims was inside a home. Two men were killed. Two others were severely wounded.
Two of the men who were shot had guns. None of the shooters has been charged with a crime.
“I don’t know if it’s the holidays. I don’t know if it’s a full moon,” former state prosecutor and Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco said. “But apparently every one of those folks that fired apparently did so within the confines of Florida law.”
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Grieco has been hired by Warren Cespedes, who shot twice through his front door in late November and badly wounded a man he said was trying to break into his home.
In 2005, Florida lawmakers passed a bill that greatly expanded the Castle Doctrine, the right to defend yourself in your home if retreating was no longer an option. Stand Your Ground would permit Floridians who believe they are in imminent danger of bodily harm to defend themselves and others in or outside the home. The law eliminated one’s duty to retreat.
Grieco, who won a high-profile Stand Your Ground case a year ago, said he doubted the recent spate of shootings had anything to do with our gun culture feeling unshackled after the November election and that more than likely it’s just people purchasing more weapons.
“It could just be an anomaly,” he said. “We need more of a sample size than just a few weeks.”
Floridians are well aware of the state’s brief but controversial Stand Your Ground history. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 may be the highest profile case of its kind in a nation besieged by guns.
The recent wave of shootings began in Sunrise on Nov. 28, just four days after Thanksgiving. A homeowner was whispering to a 911 dispatcher about three men who had jumped the fence around his home and shattered his sliding glass door to gain entry.
While on the phone with 911, he picked up his shotgun and fired at Albert Jones, 21. Jones was killed and police caught the two other men after setting up roadblocks.
The dispatcher can be heard telling the shooter, “OK, sir. You can put your gun away. The deputies are outside your house.”
The next day in North Miami-Dade, it was just before sunrise when Cespedes, his wife and two children, 5 and 9, were awakened by a man who they told police was trying to break into the home through the front door.
Cespedes said he grabbed his gun and gave several verbal warnings before firing twice through the front door. The would-be intruder was severely injured.
Then on Dec. 13 at a home in Miami’s Design District, the husband of a local artist confronted a man who police said was trying to break into the home through a rear window. The homeowner went outside into the yard, the men argued and he shot him. Next to the man who was shot were bolt cutters, police said.
Just before 6 a.m. Sunday, an Uber driver with a passenger on his way to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was cut off by a Dodge Caravan on the William Lehman Causeway while heading to the mainland. The causeway links Sunny Isles Beach to Aventura.
Aventura police, who released more information on Monday, said Kevin DeVincent Johnson, 24, got out of the van with a gun in each hand and confronted Namique Anderson while he was driving for Uber.
Still in his vehicle, according to police, Anderson fired four times, striking and killing Johnson, who never got off a shot. Anderson was not charged with a crime. Though Uber has a policy against drivers carrying weapons, the company said it was looking into the incident.
“He was acting in self defense,” Aventura police spokesman Chris Goranitis said.
Police don’t think Anderson or his passenger were targeted. They called it a random act. State records show Johnson was arrested in 2015 by the Broward Sheriff’s Office for possession of marijuana and battery on a police officer. He pleaded no contest.
They believe Johnson and another man who was in the van — and whom they have in custody — had committed an armed robbery in Broward County about an hour earlier. The man, whom they haven’t named, fled in the van when Johnson was shot, but police found the van an hour later after receiving a tip.
Grieco, who thinks the recent shootings are too small a sample size to consider a trend, said the public is simply using the tools given to it by state legislators to protect itself.
“You know the expression,” he said. “I’d rather be judged by 12, then carried by 6.”