Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: In Florida, Stand Your Ground extends to the strip club parking lot

Kimberly Matthews
Kimberly Matthews Miami-Dade Corrections

The brawl began just after midnight at a raucous Kendall strip club. Hostile interplay between a rapper and someone in the audience led to an onstage tussle.

Bouncers broke up the fight but it re-erupted afterward in the parking lot. Amid the pandemonium, with fists flying, the rapper’s sister brandished a pistol.

She pulled the trigger. As Terrance Henderson died, Florida was again confronted with the question that has plagued application of the Stand Your Ground law since it was passed a decade ago. Were these the circumstances that state legislators imagined when they voted for SYG? When then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill, did he foresee a self-defense bill so elastic that it allowed the use of deadly force to break up a fist fight outside a strip club?

Last week, as my colleague David Ovalle reported, Kimberly Matthews, 32, became the sixth person in Miami-Dade County cleared by a judge of criminal charges under Stand Your Ground. She became the county’s second shooter able to invoke SYG after a parking lot melee.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodolfo Ruiz had little choice in the Matthews case, given a Third District Court of Appeal decision in the earlier parking lot killing. Last year, a three-judge appeal panel reversed Circuit Judge Thomas Rebull who had refused to grant SYG immunity to the 6-2, 285-pound Gabriel Mobley after he had gunned down two unarmed men during a scuffle outside a North Miami-Dade restaurant. “I was freaked. I was scared. I seen this other guy coming up from the back and then he reached up under his shirt so I was scared,” Mobley had testified at his SYG hearing.

Rebull didn’t believe Mobley. That didn’t matter to the Third District panel.

Kimberly Matthews said the magic words at her own SYG hearing in June, explaining why she fired the fatal shot in April 2014 altercation. “I seen one of those guys go into — dig for a gun or a weapon . . . I don’t know what they were digging for . . . I thought they were going to kill us. … I was afraid . . . that we were going to die.”

As it turned out, that other guy was unarmed. No matter. Not in Florida.

Before SYG, Matthews’ story would have been weighed by a jury. Now we have Judge Ruiz putting himself inside the woman’s head: “She drew out her gun but did not fire, hoping the display of her firearm would be enough to break up the altercation.”

Or: “Her repeated efforts to put an end to the brawl were to no avail, leading Matthews to believe that discharging her firearm was the only way to prevent death or great bodily harm.”

The judge said Matthews “fired a single shot. In doing so, she aimed at no one in particular and hoped to end the altercation by provoking [the attackers] to leave.”

It was extraordinary — a judge forced by SYG to channel the shooter, imaging her hopes and beliefs. Surely, this wasn’t what legislators contemplated back in 2005.

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