Friday, October 23, 2015

FL: Video Supports Self Defense Claim, Contrary to Early Reports

A story is developing in Florida.  It appears to be another case where the video shows a completely different story from what the police originally reported. Christian Gunter is the motorcyclist.  Note that he is wearing a full face helmet and what appears to be a complete motorcycle outfit, including jacket and pants.  This picture is a screenshot from surveillance video, just after the shooting.  The red car in the upper right is the car that the person who was shot, Roger Atlas, arrived in.  Roger is wearing a green upper garment in the video.

Link to video

Here is the early report from Sarasota County Sheriff
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office arrested a 22-year-old man following a road rage incident that escalated into a shooting around 6:15 p.m., tonight. Christian Gunter, DOB 12/29/92, 4216 Charing Cross Rd., Sarasota, was driving his motorcycle south on US 41 just south of Bee Ridge Road when he was in a confrontation with 59-year-old Roger Atlas, who was driving a red Ford Taurus. The two pulled over and the verbal argument turned physical, prompting Gunter to pull out a handgun and shoot Atlas in the abdomen. Atlas was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital with non life-threatening injuries. Gunter was arrested and charged with Aggravated Battery with a Firearm. (Mug shot not available at time of post.)
The person shot, Roger Atlas, gave this story.  From
According to the arrest affidavit, Atlas said he told Gunter his vehicle was having trouble and possible overheating and to mind his own business. When the light turned green, Atlas started driving and Gunter pulled up behind him.

Atlas said Gunter continued to follow him, even after changing lanes multiple times, and followed him into the Sunoco parking lot where Atlas stopped to reportedly get a beverage. Atlas said he approached Gunter about following him, and during the argument, Gunter pulled out a gun and the two started to struggle. During the struggle, the gun went off and shot Atlas in the lower left abdomen.

The video shows a completely different story.  Gunter's motorcycle is parked at the gas pump, facing to the left, when Atlas arrives.  Gunter's motorcycle is facing the correct direction, according to the arrows on the pavement.  Atlas pulls up, against the traffic flow, facing to the right.  He stops, gets out of the vehicle, confronts and attacks Gunter.  Gunter has his helmet on.   Atlas grabs and pulls Gunter down, knocking down Gunter's motorcycle in the process.   It is very difficult to communicate from inside a full motorcycle helmet with the face shield down.

Gunter manages to extricate himself from Atlas' grasp, and is backing away to the right as Atlas is following him.  As Atlas continues to follow him,  Gunter shoots Atlas.  

Watch the video for yourself.  It does not have great resolution.  Gunter's attorney says that this is a clear case of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" defense. 
From the
"If you look at the video, it clearly shows the alleged victim was the aggressor, and that my client was defending himself, in a public place where he had a right to be, with no duty to retreat, and that he was attacked unprovoked," Young said. "This is a 'Stand Your Ground' case and we look forward to proving it in court."
There are several things about this case worth considering.  Gunter did not tell his side of the story, at least not immediately.  He followed the legal advise to not to talk to the police.  He was arrested, and has spent several nights in jail.  As of last report, he has not been granted bail.   In the early accounts Gunter was made out to be someone who escalated a road rage incident into a shooting.   The video negates much of the early reporting, but it cannot erase it.  Given the video, it is hard to understand the arrest and lack of bond. 

But the police did not have Gunter's side of the story, and likely did not have the video at the time of arrest.  In addition, Gunter made some after the fact errors.  You can see in the video that he goes out and uprights his motorcycle.  He should have left it in place, to show the police what happened.  Gunter exposed himself to a possible attack by Atlas, who entered the red car after being shot.  Gunter should not have assumed that Atlas was no longer a threat. 

It would have been a good idea to get the license plate number of the car from a distance.  It is not clear if Gunter waited at the station for the police to arrive.  Atlas drove away before the police arrived.

Gunter has a concealed carry permit, and is reported to be a member of a  local firearms group.   From a comment at the Herald Tribune article:
Christian just happens to belong to a firearm group on facebook that I belong to as well. The proof is in the pudding. You see him at the pump, you see the man jump out of his car and rush at Christian, you see Christian TRY to retreat as the victim keeps perusing the altercation, and then Christian drew his firearm and did the same exact thing I would have. This is a textbook stand your ground case. Christains lawyer will have a field day in court with this case. He should be a free man as of this moment.
Florida law says that the police are to determine if the "Stand Your Ground" law applies before arrest and charging occur. 

From Gunter's attorney:
"If there's a confrontation and someone gets shot or hurt, the winner goes to jail. It doesn't matter about provocation. They're going to jail," said Bradenton attorney Charles M. Britt III, who says he has handled 50 "stand your ground" cases. "The statute says that before law enforcement can make an arrest, they have to determine that 'stand your ground' doesn't apply. It's right there in the statute, but I've never once seen them do it. They always arrest first and let the system sort it out. Since 2005 when it was written into the statute, I've never seen them do it, not once."

But the Florida courts and prosecutors have negated the legislature's intent.  From the

SB-344 Burden of Proof restores the Stand Your Ground law to the original intent of the Legislature by putting the burden of proof BACK ON THE STATE where it belongs.
Through court action, prosecutors and courts have reversed the self-defense law that gives immunity from arrest, detaining in custody, charging and prosecuting until and unless an investigation reveals there is probable cause to believe the act was not lawful self-defense.  They created a special "Stand Your Ground" that forces the victim to prove innocence rather than the state prove guilt.  This bill stops that.
 HB 169, currently in process in Florida, would give a defendant the right to recover legal fees, if a judge rules that the Stand Your Ground immunity applies.  This might apply to Gunter in the future, as the law would be retroactive.

The case is quite similar to the Gabriel Mobley case, where the entire action was captured on video, but the Miami-Dade judge refused to grant Mobley immunity.   Mobley was eventually granted immunity by the appeals court, and the immunity was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.

Given the video, It seems unlikely a jury will find Gunter guilty of aggravated assault.  Protective motorcycle gear may offer some protection, but it also limits mobility and vision.   But Gunter will rack up considerable legal fees in the process.  That is what the Florida law was meant to stop.

This case may give impetus to SB-344 and HB 169 in this years Florida legislative session.

 ©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.     Link to Gun Watch

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