Florida prosecutors said Tuesday they would not file homicide charges against a 17-year-old who fatally shot a community choir director in the face, citing the state’s Stand Your Ground law.
In a memo released Tuesday, prosecutors explained that Tyrone Pierson was justified in using deadly force when he encountered Julius Jerome Jacobs on the street, and Jacobs was wielding a large stick. They concluded that even though Pierson possessed the gun illegally, and even though his friends successfully escaped the confrontation by simply walking away, he was immunized by Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which eliminates any duty to attempt retreat first.
Two friends who were with Pierson at the time of the incident said they were walking down the street when Jacobs “almost hit” them with his SUV, driving at high speed. Pierson yelled at the driver to slow down. Jacobs slowed down and had a “hostile exchange” with Pierson as he passed them by. Jacobs then pulled into a driveway and interacted with another individual in what the teens suspected was a drug exchange. As the teens walked by, he told them he had something for them. The teens continued walking and shortly after that, Jacobs drove toward them, got out of the car, and swung a heavy stick in their direction while yelling at Pierson. One of the teens said he ran away from Jacobs as he was driving toward them, fearing that he was going to try to run them over. Pierson fired his gun.
In a pointed analysis that makes clear Pierson would have been expected to attempt retreat before Stand Your Ground, prosecutors conclude that Pierson is now immune. The memo, obtained in full by ThinkProgress, explains:
Prior to 2005 the law in the State would require Mr. Pierson to avoid the use of deadly force by “retreating” if he could do so without endangering himself further. Under traditional self defense rules, Mr. Pierson may have been required to retreat as Mr. Smith and Mr. Crim were able to safely do. Given the other two people with Mr. Pierson avoided the conflict by fleeing, it is not unreasonable to assume Mr. Pierson could have done also. However, in 2005, the Florida Legislature substantially amended chapter 776, Florida Statutes, by a series of enactments collectively known as the Stand Your Ground Law. […]
In that under the current law, Mr. Pierson had no duty to retreat, Mr. Jacob’s actions make Mr. Pierson immune from criminal prosecution for any murder charges stemming from the death of Mr Jacobs.
The memo goes on to explain that Pierson qualifies for immunity from any homicide charges even though he illegally possessed the gun as a minor without a concealed carry permit. Prosecutors cite a recent Florida appeals court decision that concluded, even though the famed Stand Your Ground provision passed by the Florida legislature in 2005 prohibits those who are engaged in “unlawful activity” from claiming Stand Your Ground immunity, that another provision amended at the same time authorizes the use of deadly force in similar circumstances with no explicit exception for “unlawful activity.”
Prosecutors will charge Pierson on two counts for unlawful possession, and with evidence tampering for initially lying about the location of the gun. Like many instances in which Stand Your Ground is invoked, the facts are fraught with potential misbehavior by both parties. Jacobs, a father of five and assistant church choir director, was described by friends and relatives as a “nonviolent person” who turned his life around after past run-ins with the law. But several witnesses described him yelling foul language at the teens, and one said he yelled “I’ll beat your ass.” Pierson illegally possessed a firearm, but also may have been pursued by Jacobs without much provocation. What Stand Your Ground means is that Pierson got to make the choice to fire his gun with little consequence, rather than do what his companions did, and spare a life by running away.