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Florida fl lakeland commissioner michael dunn verdict, shooting Cristobal Lopez

Former City Leader in Florida Is Going to Jail for 3 Years Because He Killed a Shoplifter.

Michael Dunn, 51, of Lakeland, Florida, was the former commissioner. In 2018, he shot and killed a man he thought was stealing a hatchet from his store.

Monday, a judge in Lakeland, Florida, gave a former city commissioner three years in prison for killing a man he thought was stealing a hatchet from his shop in 2018.

Polk County court records show that Michael Dunn, who used to be a commissioner, pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a gun in March. Judge Donald G. Jacobsen of Polk County added 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service to Mr. Dunn's sentence.

In October 2018, Mr. Dunn was working at the Army-Navy surplus store he co-owned in Lakeland, which is about 35 miles east of Tampa. The Lakeland Police Department said at the time that Mr. Dunn saw Christobal Lopez, 50, hiding a hatchet.

The police said that Mr. Dunn asked Mr. Lopez, a homeless person who had come into the store with his father, if he was going to pay for the item. Mr. Dunn pulled Mr. Lopez's sleeve and shot him as he tried to leave the store.

Florida fl lakeland commissioner michael dunn verdict, shooting Cristobal Lopez
Michael Dunn, who was holding a gun, fought with Cristobal Lopez at the Vets Army Navy Surplus store in Lakeland, Fla., before shooting him dead.

Mr. Lopez was killed right there.

Court records show that Mr. Dunn's original charge of second-degree murder was changed to manslaughter after he took the plea deal. A few days after he was charged in 2018, he quit his job as an elected city commissioner.

At a sentencing hearing on Monday, Mr. Dunn told Judge Jacobsen that his reaction to seeing Mr. Lopez take the hatchet was "based on fear" and that he was "almost on autopilot." He also told Mr. Lopez's family that he was sorry.

Mr. Dunn said, "If I had a time machine, I would want to have never met Mr. Lopez."

During the hearing, Mr. Dunn's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, said that his client's choice to shoot Mr. Lopez "wasn't well thought out, but it also doesn't show anger or dislike."

The state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit, Brian Haas, turned down Mr. Dunn's claim of self-defense in March 2021. If Mr. Dunn's claim had been believed, he would have been protected by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which makes it hard to prosecute people who say they felt threatened and acted to protect themselves.

At the hearing, Paul Wallace, an assistant state attorney, said that the prosecutors didn't think Mr. Lopez was trying to start a fight.

Mr. Wallace said, "The vast majority of store owners do not try to use this kind of intervention."

At the hearing, the prosecutors said that Mr. Dunn had gotten into fights with several shoplifters in his store, including one who had a gun.

The prosecutors asked Judge Jacobsen for a 17-and-a-half-year sentence, while Mr. Dunn's lawyers asked for a 3-and-a-half-year sentence of "community control," which would let him serve his time at home instead of in prison.

M. Rodriguez, who was Mr. Lopez's aunt, said at the hearing that Mr. Lopez's father was never the same after the shooting.

She said, "He talked because he had to talk, and he walked because he had to walk, but when we saw him, it wasn't him."

The Lakeland Ledger, a local newspaper, says that when Mr. Dunn was 19, he shot a man by accident while practicing his aim with a pistol at home. The man lived, and the police in Lakeland said that the shooting was an accident and that Mr. Dunn did nothing wrong.

The Tampa Bay Times says that in July 2018, Mr. Dunn held a rally at his store to counter a nearby March for Our Lives rally. The March for Our Lives rally called for action against gun violence after 17 people were shot and killed at a South Florida high school.

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