As Lakeland, Florida City Commissioner Michael Dunn is facing second-degree murder charges, and claims he killed in self defense, the family of the man he killed, Cristobal Lopez, are struggling to cope with their loss.
Lopez, a agricultural laborer with a history of non-violent arrests, was alleged to have been shoplifting a hatchet from Dunn’s military surplus shop when Dunn shot him to death Oct. 3.
Shop surveillance video appears to show Lopez put an item under his shirt and several minutes later, Dunn can be seen trying to prohibit Lopez from leaving the store with the item described as a small ax. Dunn pushes and pulls at Lopez who is trying to flee. After a seconds-long struggle, and with Lopez all but out the door, Dunn fires his gun, striking Lopez who stumbles, falls and appears to briefly writhe until he’s dead. Dunn is seen standing over Lopez with his firearm still pointed at the dying man.
Dunn’s lawyer says his client was defending himself and the case is classic stand your ground. Prosecutors and a grand jury disagree.
Lopez’ father, Cristobal Lopez III, was in the store with his son, witnessed the shooting and saw his son die.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Charged With 2nd Degree Murder 16 Days After the Killing, Dunn Was Ordered Held Without Bond
After more than two weeks, authorities announced that Dunn was to be charged. A grand jury was convened in Polk County and State Attorney Brian Haas said it looked at the evidence and returned an indictment for second-degree murder. Dunn was taken into custody Friday afternoon by Bartow and Lakeland police.
In response to questions about the length of the investigation, Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens said that while some, including perhaps the family of Lopez, may have wanted to see Dunn charged sooner, he said the investigation took longer because it was done correctly.
With myriad report, all sent to the state attorney within nine days, he said there were numerous interviews of witnesses and family, a report from the medical examiner, and investigators took time to analyze the surveillance video. He said the “utmost care” was taken in the investigation so to assure that the victim’s family, the defendant and the community have confidence in what he said was a transparent investigative process.
The actual shooting at the end of the 7-minute surveillance video may be unsettling for some. The video shows Dunn pulling on Lopez’ shirt as he ties to leave the store with what may be a small hatchet he appeared to have put under his shirt in the first few moments of the released video. Lopez pulls away. Dunn fires and appears to have hit Lopez in the chest. He falls out the door and writhes on the ground as Dunn still has the handgun aimed.
2. Dunn is Using Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law as a Defense But the State Attorney Says it Doesn’t Apply in This Case
State Attorney Brian Haas said that while his office complies with and abides by the law when applying the so-called stand your ground law as a defense, he “determined” Dunn’s “actions fall outside the provisions” of the law. He said the matter will likely be taken up in a judicial hearing.
Dunn’s lawyer Rusty Franklin told reporters that he was unhappy with Haas’ decision and the grand jury indictment. He said the video “clearly shows” that Lopez was “welding an axe.” He said Dunn was protecting himself and he plans to prove that in court.
Stand your ground is a controversial law and is at play currently in another Florida county for a fatal shooting in a convenience store paring lot.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office declined to charge Michael Drejka, 47, for fatally shooting 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton in July after an argument about a handicap parking spot. The case was handed over to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office who has filed manslaughter charges against Drejka. He bonded out of jail in September on $100,000 bail.
3. Dunn is a Gun Rights Advocate & Held a Rally at His Army-Navy Store as a Counter Protest to March For Our Lives, the Parkland Survivors Gun Control Group & Raffled a Gun in Support of a Confederate Monument
Dunn is an ardent second amendment defendner and gun rights advocate. At his military surplus store this summer, he held a rally of his own to protest a March for Our Lives rally. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors including Emma Gonzales and David Hogg started the gun control movement in response to the mass shooting at their Parkland, Florida high school in February of 2018 where 17 were killed.
Dunn, who had tried to win a seat on the Lakeland City Commission twice before, threw his support to protecting a Confederate Civil War memorial slated to be removed from the city’s downtown park. Dunn was a vocal supporter of keeping a Confederate statue where it has been for more than 100 years. After the Commission voted to move the the 26-foot Confederate monument donated by the United Daughter’s of the Confederacy more than 100 years ago, Dunn said he did not want taxpayer money to fund it.
At a rally this past spring, Dunn said he’d vote against using tax dollars to move the monument. Since the Lakeland City Commission voted to move the monument, with the city not coming up with a dime, it falls to private donations to raise the $250,000 relocation cost.
“I actually have ancestors who fought in the Confederacy,” he said. “I see it as a monument to their service, plain and simple.”
A graduate of the Lakeland Citizens’ Police Academy, Dunn was reported to have donated a .38 Derringer handgun to a raffle in support of the Civil War memorial.
Dunn, who graduated from the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce Public Leadership Institute, is married to Brandi Bundy Dunn and the couple are parents of one grown son, Lance, a Polk County firefighter and EMT.
4. A Farm Worker Born in Rural Arcadia, Florida, Lopez Came From a Large, Catholic Family. His Arrest History Includes Non-Violent Charges
Lopez was born in 1968 in the inland Florida city of Arcadia, a mostly rural farming community peppered with ranches and orange groves, it’s home to several rodeos and its city center includes numerous antique dealers. Lopez was said to have lived most of his life in neighboring Hardee County and mostly toiled in the fields and groves. Among the top citrus producers in the state, the county is also full of dairy and crop farmers.
He came from a large, Catholic family and had several siblings.
Lopez has a criminal history albeit for crimes sans victims and all non-violent based on a cursory search of online court records in Hardee and DeSoto counties, Florida.
In 1990 in DeSoto County, he pleaded no contest to a charge of ‘criminal conversion,’ a vague statute which may have been related to converting property, or squatting. He served two months in jail.
In 2004 he was charged with shoplifting, a second degree misdemeanor. The case was dismissed.
In 2017, he was found guilty of violating a local ordinance by not having a pet vaccinated against rabies.
In May of 2018 he was charged with driving with a suspended license.
Lopez’ sister says he did not deserve what happened to him.
“My brother didn’t need to be killed like some animal,” Veronica Lopez told the Tampa Bay Times.
5. The Lopez Family’s Lawyer Advised They Not Discuss the Specifics of the Case, But Some Family Members Have Been Posting About Their Grief. A GoFundMe & Another Fundraiser to Help Pay for Funeral Expenses Didn’t Receive Many Donations
Cristobal Lopez was buried Monday Oct. 15, 12 days after he was killed. He’s survived by his immediate family, including his father, three brothers and four sisters.
Attorney Adam Kemp released a statement from the family:
“There is no way to undo the life-shattering harm that Mr. Dunn caused, but we are pleased with the grand jury’s decision for such an unnecessary and egregious use of deadly force. We want to thank the State Attorney’s Office and the Lakeland Police Department for their swift and thorough investigation. We are hopeful that through both this criminal proceeding and the civil suit we plan to file, Mr. Dunn will be held fully accountable for the senseless killing of Christobal Lopez.”
Lopez’ sister Mary Garcia created a GoFundMe page for her brother that raised just $20. Veronica Lopez shared posts about collecting donations for expenses. It’s not known if that fundraising campaign was successful.