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Florida city official charged with murder after state rejects ‘stand your ground’ shooting of suspected thief

Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn was charged with second degree murder Friday after fatally shooting a suspected shoplifter at his military surplus store earlier this month, according to the Lakeland Police Department.

A city commissioner was arrested nearly three weeks after police say he shot and killed a man who tried to shoplift a small ax from a military store, authorities said.

Michael Dunn was charged Friday with second-degree murder in the Oct. 3 fatal shooting of 50-year-old Cristobal Lopez at a Lakeland, Florida, Army-Navy surplus store that Dunn owns, the Lakeland Police Department said.

He is being held without bond at the Polk County Jail. His first court appearance is set for Saturday morning, a Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.

Surveillance video from Vets Army Navy Surplus store appears to show Lopez trying to leave as Dunn grabs him by the shirt. Lopez is then seen holding onto the handle of the store front door while Dunn tries to pull him back inside the store.

Dunn, who was holding a firearm in his other hand, lost his grip of Lopez’s shirt and fired two shots, police say.

When police arrived to the store, Dunn was standing over Lopez and pointing his firearm at him, a probable cause affidavit says.

“I think he expired,” he told police, according to the affidavit.

Lopez was shot in his left upper torso and his mid back. He died at the scene, the document states.

Dunn did not render any aid to Lopez after the shooting, police said.

Store owner claims self-defense

After the shooting, Dunn told detectives he acted out of fear. Lopez was carrying the ax but he was holding its blade in the palm of his hand, a probable cause affidavit says.

Florida State Attorney Brian Haas said during a press conference on Friday that he believes Dunn’s actions were not justified under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Dunn’s attorney Rusty Franklin told CNN affiliate WFLA that he believes his client acted in self-defense.

“There was a video, it clearly shows that the shoplifter was wielding an ax,” Franklin told WFLA. “He had no choice, but to protect himself, and that’s what we hope that this trial will prove.”

Suspected shoplifter tries to flee

Dunn was in his office when he saw Lopez removing the ax from a rack and hiding it underneath his shirt on the store’s surveillance camera footage, police said.

As Lopez and his father started to leave the store after purchasing a hat, Dunn confronted Lopez. During the confrontation, police say, the ax fell down Lopez’s pant leg onto the floor.

Lopez picked it up and said he would pay for the ax, but he tried to leave right after he reached the cash register, according to police.

“At no time did the victim appear to have made any threatening movements towards the suspect,” the affidavit states.

Witnesses told police that Lopez did not verbally threaten Dunn.