In early July, 20-year-old Colt Thriemer shot dead a one-time friend in a Wal-Mart parking lot, saying he feared for his life. Witnesses gathered for a truck meet that night say victim Thomas James Brown, 21, was walking away toward his car when Thriemer fired ten shots. Some say Brown had threatened to kill Thriemer over the course of several weeks. The story as told by prosecutors in a detailed legal memo suggests drug transactions, addiction, and monetary debts all played a role in the scenario leading up to Brown’s death.
But these facts will never play out in a trial, because prosecutors have decided not to charge Thriemer citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
“The Stand Your Ground statute makes no exception from the immunity because Brown may have been walking away from Thriemer at the time the deadly force was used,” the memo from the State Attorney’s office states. “The Stand Your Ground law does not require Thriemer to wait until Brown in fact retrieved a gun before he fired. Under the current state of the law and the facts of this case, Thriemer was legally allowed to use deadly force based on a reasonable belief that his life was in danger and that he was about to become the victim of an armed robbery.”
The legal memo tells a sympathetic and morally complex story. As Assistant State Attorney Amy Berndt tells it, “According to many who knew him, Thomas ‘TJ’ Brown (Brown) was not the same person he was six months ago. An addiction to crack cocaine as well as a drug debt apparently caused him to become increasingly violent, aggressive and threatening and ultimately led to his death.” She details how Brown became involved in drug sales and later recruited Thriemer. That Thriemer and Brown were once friends, but that Brown threatened to kill Thriemer when he could not repay his debts. That Brown initiated a fist fight with Thriemer on the day of his death. And that Thriemer reportedly once talked to a deputy police officer who lived near his brother about his fears.
But it also notes that Thriemer would have had a duty to first attempt retreat in a public place “rather than using deadly force” before the law changed “substantially” in 2005 with Stand Your Ground. Brown’s family told Local News 6 they do not believe this is a self-defense case and that they are hurt by the decision.
Although prosecutors regularly make decisions about who to charge under what is known as prosecutorial discretion, the potential for prosecutors to drop charges before even holding a hearing on Stand Your Ground that includes fact finding has been particularly controversial in the past. Delays in charging both George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin, and Theodore Wafer for the death of Renisha McBride, sparked public protests and petitions. But they were both ultimately charged.
Thriemer’s case will end here. But prosecutors may be factoring in not just the law itself, but the history of Florida Stand Your Ground jurisprudence, in which others who have been granted Stand Your Ground immunity include a man who went back to his car to get a gun, another who shot an acquaintance for threatening to beat him up, and a jail officer who severely beat an inmate.